By Mr. Paul Boyce (FORSCOM)February 5, 2009
The Army released its January 2009 data on suicides today and re-emphasized the urgency and seriousness necessary for preventive action at all levels. The figures for January 2009 reflect seven suicides and 17 other deaths, cause still to be determined.
"Each of these losses is a personal tragedy that is felt throughout the Army family," said Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. "The trend and trajectory seen in January further heightens the seriousness and urgency that all of us must have in preventing suicides."
The Army, last week, announced an Army-wide stand-down within a 30-day window running February 15 to March 15, 2009. The stand-down will include training for peer-level recognition of behaviors that may lead to suicidal behavior, and intervention at the buddy level. The stand-down will be followed by a chain-teaching program focused on suicide prevention, from March 15 to June 15, 2009.
Last week, General Chiarelli was also given the responsibility to oversee the integration of Army efforts to prevent suicide. Over the past two years, the Army has increased its efforts, and has enhanced resources and initiatives aimed at identifying and mitigating the causes of suicidal behavior. Key to these efforts is eliminating the stigma associated with seeking mental health care.
"We need to help our Soldiers and their Families understand that it's OK to ask for help," Chiarelli said last week.
The Army is undertaking a Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program this year to enhance resiliency and help Soldiers, Families, and civilians in an era of high operational tempo and persistent conflict.
Another program to strengthen resiliency is the Army's BATTLEMIND training which helps prepare Soldiers and their Families for the stressors of war, and also assists with the detection of possible mental health issues before and after deployment. "Strong Bonds" is a training program to help Soldiers and Families with communication tactics to improve relationships and build skills that enhance relationships and strengthen resiliency.
In October 2008, the Army and the National Institute of Mental Health signed an agreement to conduct long-term research to identify factors impacting the mental and behavioral health of Soldiers and to share intervention and mitigation strategies that will help decrease suicides. During the five-year study, the NIMH may interview Soldiers and Families from each component of the force -- Active Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve.