Post observes suicide stand-down
October 4, 2012
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- The Army took a collective stand against suicide Sept. 27 by holding a suicide prevention stand-down day.
The stand-down gave Soldiers, families and employees a break from their regular duties to discuss the growing problem of suicide in the Army.
Agencies and organizations throughout the Army staged educational activities to focus on reducing the stigma associated with seeking care for behavioral health issues, as well as providing members of the Army family an opportunity to familiarize themselves with health promotion, risk reduction and suicide prevention.
At the Fort Jackson Officers' Club, though, chaplains took a less-formal approach. Dozens of Soldiers and Army employees gathered for breakfast and lunch to talk about the problem.
"This is not ACE training," said Fort Jackson installation chaplain Col. Robert Warden, referring to the Army's "Ask, Care, Escort" initiative. "This is not official Army training. What we wanted to do is have a conversation. We're going to do some praying and spend about 30 minutes talking about suicide ... I have no idea where we will be going with that."
The event allowed for those in the audience to share their experiences and thoughts on the subject. Some of those who spoke up knew someone who had taken his or her own life. Others were concerned by the rising numbers of suicides in the Army in recent years.
It was reported that 26 active-duty Soldiers were believed to have killed themselves in July -- the most suicides ever recorded in a month since the Army began tracking these figures.
"We never know what someone is going through," one participant said. "If you don't take the time to get to know your counterparts, you're missing out on some beautiful things."
Another said his lack of experience with the issue lead him to miss warning signs in a co-worker.
"I was seeing the hurt in her and didn't know what it was," he said. "But, I listened and she used her faith to get her through difficult times."
"Just say what comes from your heart," said another. "Make sure you provide a listening ear."
Brig. Gen. Bryan Roberts, Fort Jackson commanding general, was among those in attendance, and said the Army is taking a critical look at how depression and mental illness is managed.
"The Army is really grappling with this problem," he said. "We have to be intrusive leaders. We have to be intrusive friends. Through intrusive techniques you will learn if problems exist. There are signs you don't see if you aren't looking for them."
He urged those in the audience not to forget about the problem once the day's stand-down was complete.
"It can't be the end," he said. "I ask that we challenge ourselves to be ambassadors for suicide prevention."
Warden suggested Soldiers practice "situational awareness" with battle buddies. The practice can be as easy as simply asking open-ended questions about associates' welfare.