By Wallace McBride, Fort Jackson LeaderAugust 29, 2013
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- War wounds aren't always physical.
September is Suicide Prevention Month, reserved by the Army each year to discuss the impact of mental health issues on Soldiers. Fort Jackson has several events planned for September to highlight many of these problems, but Laly Rodriguez, the post's acting Suicide Prevention Program manager, said it's a subject that needs attention throughout the year.
Suicide rates among active and non-active military personnel surged to a record high in 2012. Rodriguez said mental health issues are often neglected because of the misperception that depression and related illnesses can have negative effects on careers. Part of the goal of Suicide Prevention Month, she said, is to ease the stigma that is attached to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and similar issues.
"Whenever we have a headache, we go to the doctor. The problem is, when we're feeling sad, we don't go and don't talk about it," Rodriguez said.
September represents a month for the Army to regroup its efforts to cope with mental health issues, a campaign that actually lasts all year.
"Commanders can play a very important role in this, creating a climate of trust and letting (the Soldiers) know that looking for help is a sign of strength, instead of a weakness," Rodriguez said.
Suicide awareness events planned for September are: ACE cards will be distributed Tuesday at gates 1, 2 and 4 from 7 to 9 a.m. ACE stands for "Ask, Care and Escort," and the cards are part of a program to encourage Soldiers to directly and honestly question any battle buddy who exhibits suicidal behavior.
Educational booths will be set up at various locations on Fort Jackson on Sept. 6. Suicide Prevention Program representatives will be at the Exchange and Moncrief Army Community Hospital from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Retired Maj. Gen. Mark Graham and his wife, Carol, will speak with Soldiers and Fort Jackson employees 9 a.m., Sept. 10 at the Solomon Center. The Grahams have become advocates for mental health and suicide prevention following the loss of two sons. The youngest, who was a scholarship ROTC cadet and pre-med student, committed suicide in 2003. His brother, an Army lieutenant, was killed by an Improvised Explosive Device in Iraq the following year.
At 1 p.m., Sept. 24 at the Solomon Center, Helen Pridgen, area director of the South Carolina Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, will speak with Soldiers and installation employees. Pridgen lost her 24-year-old son to suicide in 2001, shortly after a doctor diagnosed him with depression.
Soldiers and families in need of crisis assistance can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained consultants are available around the clock and can be contacted by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or by visiting www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.