WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 2, 2008) -- National Suicide Prevention Week, Sept. 7-13, will be an opportunity for the Army to roll out some new initiatives and training tools, said one of the Army 's leading psychiatrists.
"Unfortunately, the numbers of suicides in the Army continue to go up," said Col. Elspeth C. Ritchie, director of the Army Medical Department's Strategic Communications and formerly psychiatry consultant to the Army's surgeon general. She said the Army had a high of 115 suicides last year.
Ritchie said the Army's recent push on suicide awareness has awakened Soldiers to the potential problem, but added that many still don't know what to do about it. For instance, she said Soldiers might recognize depression over a romantic breakup as a risk factor for suicide, but might not be sure how to approach the Soldier in need.
This fall a new interactive DVD will allow Soldiers to practice how they would aid potential suicide victims, Ritchie said. The DVD features realistic video vignettes about two Soldiers with problems.
The video, or "virtual experience immersive learning simulation," also known as VEILS,
follows the problems of the two Soldiers and their stories change based on input from the viewer.
If the viewer says the wrong thing and gets bad results, Ritchie said the DVD will allow the trainee to re-do the vignette until the outcome is more favorable.
The DVD, titled "Beyond the Front,Aca,!A? was developed by Lincoln University in Missouri, partnering with WILL Interactive, using new behavior-modification VEILS technology. Ritchie said thousands of the DVDs will be distributed to Soldiers this fall.
Vignettes are also available on the Web page of the Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, Ritchie pointed out. The CHPPM training offers five printed vignettes, each asking at the bottom how the reader would respond and offering multiple-choice answers.
Also available on the CHPPM site are suicide prevention posters, with slogan such as "Never accept defeat" and "Never leave a fallen comrade."
The Web site also has a downloadable six-panel "Leader's Guide to Suicide Prevention. And it has the ACE Suicide Intervention Tipcard. ACE stands for "ask, care and escort" and those are the recommended steps for providing assistance to a Soldier at risk, Ritchie said. She said the Soldier should be escorted to a chaplain, a psychiatrist or another care provider.
The Army is also boosting care providers in order to attack the suicide problem, Ritchie said.
"We've been trying very hard to hire more behavioral health specialists," Ritchie said.
The Army has hired 191 more providers this year at direct-care facilities such as Army medical centers, Ritchie said. And TRICARE has brought on more than 2,800 more mental-health providers, she said.
Telepsychiatry is another new treatment option being offered to Soldiers in some remote locations such as Alaska, Ritchie said. The teleconference option is being offered to Soldiers at the National Training Center in California's Mohave Desert, Ritchie said, and it's being offered to Guard and Reserve troops mobilizing at places like Camp Atterbury, Ill.
The Army will roll out a new Comprehensive Mental Health Strategy in early October, Ritchie said, at the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army.
Suicide-prevention tools offered by the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine can be found at chppm-www.apgea.army.mil/dhpw/Readiness/suicide.aspx.