Suicide campaign seeks to remove stigma
August 22, 2012
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- According to figures released earlier this month by the Pentagon, 38 Soldiers took their lives in July, the highest numbers recorded in one month since the Army began tracking suicide rates.
These numbers include active and non-active duty Soldiers who serve in the Army National Guard or Reserve. To date, the Army has confirmed 120 suicides for both active and non-active duty Soldiers in 2012. An additional 67 other deaths are suspected to be suicides.
"The numbers are continuously going up, so we can't keep doing the same things," said Sandra Barnes, Employee Assistance Program coordinator with the Army Substance Abuse Program. "Our main goal is to go along with the Army's campaign of having a healthy force."
September is Suicide Prevention Month, and Fort Jackson has a series of events planned throughout the month to highlight the need for awareness of the growing problem. Brig. Gen. Bryan Roberts, Fort Jackson's commanding general, has signed a proclamation recognizing Suicide Prevention Month, urging the Soldiers, family members and civilians on Fort Jackson to work together to recognize the risk factors and warning signs of potential suicide.
"We want to remove the stigma so Soldiers know that if they talk about suicide, they won't have problems with their career," said Laly Rodriguez, manager of the Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention programs for Fort Jackson. "Our goal is to re-educate them and provide them with resources and services that we have on post and off post."
On Sept. 2, the first Sunday of the month, post chaplains are expected to speak to their congregations about suicide awareness during regular services, Rodriguez said. Suicide awareness banners will be placed at the post gates, and educational booths will be set up 11:30 a.m. 12:30 p.m., Sept. 4 and Sept. 7, at Moncrief Army Community Hospital and the Exchange.
Helen Pridgen, South Carolina area director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, will also be speaking at the Fort Jackson Post Theater three times during September.
Pridgen is also a suicide survivor. Her son, Clay, killed himself in 2000 at the age of 25.
"My loss fueled my desire to try to prevent this happening to other families," Pridgen said. "It's a way of honoring his memory and his 25 years of life. It's a way to use my love for him in a constructive, positive way. I believe that suicide is preventable, and that depression and mental illness is treatable. We can all work together and have a role in prevention."
Pridgen will be speaking Sept. 10, 18 and 25 at the theater. The Fort Jackson installation chaplain, Col. Robert Warden, will also be speaking at these events, Rodriguez said.
Pridgen said she will be discussing the warning signs of suicide, and will be inviting other survivors to speak about their experiences.
"There will be an emphasis on the response," she said. "Forty percent of people who die by suicide communicate their intention to a co-worker. How are you going to respond? And, if you experience a suicide, what do you know about the resources available to you?"
"We want to make sure everybody is aware, not just our military personnel, but our civilians and retirees, as well," Barnes said. "We want everyone to know the signs and symptoms so that they can be aware of things that might be going on in their homes. It takes a community to do that. Here on Fort Jackson, we want everybody to know we're a community, and we're going to work together to erase the stigma that's associated with suicide."