The Army is expanding its observance with events occurring during the entire month of September, focusing efforts on total Army family well-being, resilience, stigma reduction, and positive results achieved by getting involved and reaching out for help.

The Army has designated September as Suicide Prevention Month and joined the nation in observing National Suicide Prevention Week, which runs through Friday, and World Suicide Prevention Day, held Monday.

The Army is expanding its observance with events occurring during the entire month of September, focusing efforts on total Army family well-being, resilience, stigma reduction, and positive results achieved by getting involved and reaching out for help.

"We are committed to every Soldier, and our efforts are focused on prevention well before the individual chooses suicide as their only option," said Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, Army surgeon general and commander of the U.S. Army Medical Command.

To reduce the number of suicides, the Army is taking a holistic approach to health promotion, risk reduction and suicide prevention. It takes into account the challenges derived from financial, relationship, legal, substance abuse and medical issues.

The Army has partnered with the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct the largest behavioral health study of risk and resilience factors among military personnel.

Agencies and organizations throughout the Army are planning appropriate educational activities to observe the Army's Suicide Prevention Month.

A Suicide Prevention web page has been established on the Army Suicide Prevention website to facilitate suicide prevention training and resource needs at preventsuicide.army.mil.

A stand-down has been directed by Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III for Sept. 27. The theme is "Shoulder to Shoulder, We Stand up for Life."

"Leaders across our Army recognize that the health of our Soldiers, Army civilians and family members is a top priority," Austin said. "We remain committed to doing what is needed to care for our most precious asset - our people - thereby ensuring a healthy and resilient force for the future."

Defeating suicide will take active involvement from everyone. Civilian and military research on suicide has demonstrated that it is a complex phenomenon that defies easy solutions.

The Army has expanded access to services and programs to help Soldiers and family members improve their ability to cope with the stresses associated with military service such as separation, deployments and financial pressures.

The increased use of these services indicates that Soldiers and families are using these programs. For example, the number of Soldiers that have been seen in behavioral health clinics has steadily increased over the past five years, the total number of behavioral health clinic visits increased, and the number of Soldiers that participate in Strong Bonds marital retreats has increased.

These types of programs are geared toward getting the Army out "in front" of the suicide, and will ultimately help lower suicide rates.

"Despite the tough enemies our Army encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan, suicide is the toughest enemy we've faced, and I'm confident we will defeat this enemy," said Joseph Westphal, under secretary of the Army.

Stigma toward seeking behavioral health support is a national problem that the Army takes seriously. Numerous surveys indicate that some Soldiers are reluctant to seek help because they view it as a sign of weakness, or they believe their leaders will view it as a sign of weakness.

However, over the past several years, there has been a decrease in the percentage of Soldiers who hold these views. At the same time, the number of Soldiers in treatment programs for behavioral health and substance abuse, for example, has steadily increased.

Army leaders have developed numerous initiatives to address the issue of stigma as it relates to seeking behavioral (mental) health services including:

* Co-location of behavioral health and primary health-care providers (Respect-Mil and Medical Home Model) within medical service facilities

* Including stigma reduction messaging in all suicide prevention training videos

* Strategic communications initiatives launched to promote help-seeking behavior for Soldiers and their families, including public service announcements featuring celebrities as well as Army leaders

* Policy revisions to discontinue use of the term "mental" when referring to mental health services and replace it with "behavioral"

* Continued exploration of opportunities to employ confidential behavioral health and related services

The Army has expanded its Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training efforts and developed and fielded a number of training tools to facilitate units' training. Other resources include ACE cards, Suicide Prevention Training Tip cards, Leaders' Guides and videos. Additional resources may be accessed on the Army G-1, Suicide Prevention website.

Other programs designed to combat suicide include the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program, which the Army instituted in 2012. An update to the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, CSF2 equips and trains Soldiers, family members and Army civilians for the psychological as well as physical rigors of sustained operations.

The CSF2 training equips individuals with valuable life skills, which helps to better cope in stressful situations, bounce back from adversity and avoid self-defeating behavior.

For assistance, Soldiers and family members should contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline/Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Editor's note: Fort Meade will host a Suicide Prevention Awareness stand-down on Sept. 26.

Page last updated Thu September 13th, 2012 at 00:00