The "S" word: Wagonmaster Soldiers learn to help others deal with suicide through conversa
March 18, 2008
FORT HOOD, Texas - Suicide.
It's the "S" word a lot of Soldiers don't like to talk about, especially when it comes to one of their "battle buddies" committing suicide.
The Army has had suicide prevention training in place for its Soldiers for about 20 years.
However, the 15th Sustainment Brigade "Wagonmasters," 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) is taking the training one step further and training some of its Soldiers on suicide intervention skills.
The class, which is known as the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) was conducted on Mar. 11 and 12, and is a two-day long class taught by Chaplain (Maj.) Stan Whitten, the Wagonmaster chaplain, intended to teach Soldiers how to help those who may be considering suicide.
The class uses a simple model as guide, which is broken up into three parts: connecting, understanding, and assisting, but Whitten warned that the model is just a guide to the generic themes, not a step-by-step set of instructions or rules.
According to Whitten, Soldiers need to keep an eye on each other, looking for behaviors or patterns of behavior that appear unusual.
At that point, the Soldier might invite the at-risk Soldier to get a cup of coffee, asking the at-risk Soldier about what might be going on in their life that is causing the abnormal behavior.
Whitten said very few people considering suicide will come out and tell others around them about it.
"The person at risk is relying on us to ask the tough question," Whitten said to the Soldiers in the class.
He explained that in order to avoid misunderstanding, they need to be clear and direct when they ask, avoiding potentially unclear or open-ended questions such as: "Are you thinking of hurting yourself', Do you feel bad' or Are you thinking of going away'"
Whitten said people considering suicide are often being pulled between their reasons to live and their reasons to die.
"We want to pull them towards the living," he said.
The Soldiers in the class were told that they should talk the person through their reasons, both for living and for dying.
By talking about their reasons for dying, the Soldiers find out what kind of pain the person is in, and by talking about it, the person may come up with a solution, Whitten said.
But the Soldiers were cautioned not to put down any of the person's reasons, because it is about them, not the Soldier, he explained.
Once the Soldier finds out that someone is suicidal, they should find out how they planned to carry it out and how prepared they are.
Whitten said the Soldiers should try to take away the person's means, if they can do it safely.
When the plan has been disabled, the Soldier should talk to the person about what resources they have available, whether it is friends, family, a favorite pet, others in the unit, or medical professionals.
"They may not know what resources there are," Whitten said.
As a final step, the Soldier should set up a follow up plan, something they will commit to in order to keep the other person safe.
"Don't commit to a follow up contract you can't keep," Whitten said.
He explained that if the Soldier fails to keep the follow up plan, they can destroy the person's trust and make them feel worse than before possibly giving them another reason to go back to suicide.
Sgt. Ollicia Gonzalez, a medic with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 15th Special Troops Battalion, had to talk Whitten out of jumping off a bridge during a role-playing exercise in the class.
"When I was standing up here, I was getting teary-eyed a little bit, because it became real," Gonzalez said.
Although she hopes to never use what she has learned in the class, she feels more prepared now to handle any situation that may occur.