FORT SILL, Okla. (Dec. 1, 2016) -- September was Suicide Prevention Month for the Army and Fort Sill, but mental health awareness continues year-round. With the start of the holiday season comes an increase in suicides as well as suicide ideations.

All too often, the focus is on helping Soldiers and family members who have expressed these sorts of thoughts and not on those who have been affected by suicide. The Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) at the Reynolds Army Health Clinic Behavioral Health Department observed the day of International Survivors of Suicide Loss, Nov. 19.

In an intimate ceremony outside the behavioral health clinic, a small IOP group therapy session released balloons in honor of a friend or loved one lost to suicide. Staff Sgt. Craig Martin, D Battery, 1st Battalion, 40th Field Artillery, was one of the Soldiers present at the ceremony.

"Back in September I lost my best friend to suicide," said Martin. "He was a fellow Soldier and the godfather to my youngest daughter. We were recently stationed in Alaska together, and when I left to come to Fort Sill earlier this year, he seemed fine."

Martin was already in the IOP when he received word of his friend's suicide.

"I was referred to the IOP for help with my PTSD, depression, and anxiety when I got the call," continued Martin. "Without the coping skills I had recently learned, his suicide would have been overwhelming. I encourage any fellow Soldier out there to seek the help you need, especially the outpatient services that are offered here at Reynolds."

Capt. Fe Nall, IOP officer in charge, echoed Martin's plea.

"Behavioral health's Intensive Outpatient Program is designed to provide intermediate level of care between routine outpatient and inpatient admission," said Nall. "The program here has been in existence since October 2015, with a capacity of 15 patients at a given time. We meet daily for four hours over six weeks with a series of therapy groups in the morning and other programs in the afternoon such as yoga or nutrition and occupational therapy."

Martin said the program has especially helped him overcome the emotions that arose after hearing of his friend's suicide.

"I felt so angry and overwhelmed. I was scared for his family and frustrated by the loss of control over the whole situation. The fact that I could talk to others going through the same situation and actively practice the skills that I had learned in IOP has been a great help," he said.

"An advantage to an IOP is Soldiers remain with their social support that is integrated in their unit, Nall said. "We've known that solid social support plays an integral role in recovery and maintaining stability."

Throughout his IOP therapy, Martin has had the direct support of his command.

"After his initial six weeks in the program, I noticed a marked improvement in Staff Sgt. Martin's mental health and insisted that he continue in the program," said Capt. Taylor Kilmer, D/1-40th FA commander. "The IOP had been a great help to Martin, and from a command perspective I encourage any Soldier to seek out the mental health support they need."

Referrals to the IOP are from a Soldier's initial visit to the Reynolds Behavioral Health Clinic.

"Our referral sources are from fellow behavioral health providers, and it is best for Soldiers to see [one of those] providers individually and get treatment in the primary care setting first," said Nall. "That provider will determine what other services the Soldier may need, which include the Intensive Outpatient Program."

The IOP is only open to active-duty service members at this time. For more information about the program or other services, call the Behavioral Health Department at 580-442-8225.