By Mr. Paul Boyce (FORSCOM)September 4, 2008
In conjunction with its observance of National Suicide Prevention Week, Sept. 7-13, and the National Guard and Army Reserve's month-long observation, Sept. 6 - Oct. 5, the Army is promoting the need for leaders at all levels to be more proactive and take greater responsibility to prevent suicides through increased training, intervention and access to behavioral health resources.
For this year's observance, the Army has chosen the theme, "Shoulder-to-Shoulder: No Soldier Stands Alone," to emphasize the strength of the Army Family when it works together to tackle tough problems. The theme is also a solemn reminder that sometimes the toughest moments for Soldiers occur away from the battlefield.
"Army leaders are fully aware that repeated deployments have led to increased distress and anxiety for both Soldiers and their Families," said Secretary of the Army Pete Geren. "This stress on the force is validated by recent studies of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans reporting symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder or major depression. The Army is committed to ensuring that all Soldiers and their Families receive the behavioral health care they need."
The Army considers one suicide one too many. In 2007 there were 115 suicides in the active Army. This is an increase from 102 suicides in 2006. To date, the Army has 62 confirmed suicides for 2008, with 31 pending confirmation of cause of death.
The 2007 suicide incidents include 93 active-duty Soldiers and 22 reserve-component Soldiers on active duty. When not on active duty, the National Guard and Army Reserve track suicide incidents separately, and reported a loss of 57 additional Soldiers.
While the suicide rate is higher than where the Army was last year at this time, the Army's immediate actions are to enhance intervention skills and increase the awareness of leaders and Soldiers across the force.
The Army is placing special emphasis on first line leaders to raise their confidence in their ability to prevent suicide through targeted training programs. Intended outcomes include better recognition of stressors such as failed relationships, legal and financial problems, and occupational and operational issues that can contribute to suicidal behavior.
The Army's Suicide Prevention Program is part of a larger effort to effect change in how leaders and Soldiers view behavioral health care in general. This behavioral health strategy is centered on whole life fitness and is designed to better prepare Soldiers to cope with the challenges of daily life as well as during times of intense stress.
"One key thing that will help Soldiers seek the care they need is changing the stigma associated with seeking behavioral health care," said Lt. Col. Thomas Languirand, Chief, Army G-1 Command Policy and Programs Division. "It is critical for Soldiers, Family members, and Army Civilians to know that seeking help during times of stress is a sign of strength, not weakness."
As part of the effort to remove any stigma that is attached to behavioral health care, Soldiers no longer have to report counseling undertaken to deal with stress from combat or related to marital, family or grief issues when they apply for a security clearance unless the treatment was court-ordered or was the result of violence.
The Army's reserve components (ARNG, USAR) are also coordinating education and training resources with local community agencies that support suicide prevention efforts. These support resources, which are available to active duty Soldiers as well, include Veterans Administration coordinators, primary care providers, local law enforcement agencies, hotlines and crisis centers, local churches and other religious organizations.
"Suicide prevention, like all leadership challenges, is a commander's program and every leader's responsibility," said Lt. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1 (Personnel). "However, the success of the Army Suicide Prevention Program rests upon proactive, caring, and courageous people who recognize the imminent danger and then take immediate action to save a life. Suicide prevention is everybody's business in the Army."
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