By Mr. Wallace McBrideSeptember 14, 2017
"If you're in the business of helping -- and nobody's coming to you for help -- you're doing something wrong."
As a mission statement, it doesn't leave Aljournal Franklin, Fort Jackson's Suicide Prevention Program manager, much margin for error. Misery might love company, but the kinds of anxiety and depression that often end with suicide often prefer solitude. The post's Army Substance Abuse Program relies on the Fort Jackson community to help identify people at risk, and engender a trust that encourages people to seek help.
During September, those efforts really heat up. September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and Fort Jackson has been conducting a series of events throughout the month to not only raise awareness of the problem, but to reinforce existing training programs.
"We're actually beginning to do this right," said Franklin, who took over the Suicide Prevention Program earlier this year. Volunteers spent the morning of Sept. 5 issuing ACE cards to drivers entering the post, which break down the Army's "Ask, Care and Escort" strategy to taking care of Soldiers that might be at risk for suicidal behavior.
Also taking place throughout September was a series of informal gatherings around post, which Franklin has dubbed "chat and chews."
"We had 20 folks show up for (the first) and engaged in a great, informal conversation," he said. "We talked about suicide prevention efforts, we introduced our community partners, we talked about the need for everyone to get involved."
A moment of silence was held Sept. 8 at the post flagpole, after which participants reaffirmed the month's mission statement.
"We're not commemorating the loss of those who have died by suicide," Franklin said. "What we were commemorating is a rejuvenation of our focus on preventing future suicides, and on being willing to support one another."
On Sept. 25, a pair of guests to Fort Jackson will travel the post and help coach Soldiers and command groups on suicide prevention strategies. Dr. Keita Franklin, director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, and former WNBA star Chamique Holdsclaw.
During her 11 seasons with the WNBA, Holdsclaw earned All-Star honors six times and the 1999 Rookie of the Year distinction. She was also a two-time league rebounding champion and the league's scoring champion in 2002. She's also the focus of a recent documentary about her struggle with mental illness, "MIND/GAME: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw."
"Behavioral health and mental health has become a big part of her life, as both an advocate and as a survivor," Franklin said.
Franklin, a member of Senior Executive Service, is responsible for policy and oversight for the Departments Suicide Prevention programs. She previously served as the head of the Behavioral Health Branch where she was charged with leading the integration of Marine Corps behavioral health programs.
"This is the kind of one-two punch that I don't think we've ever had on Fort Jackson before," Franklin said. "We've got Dr. (Keita) Franklin, who can speak to policy, and Holdsclaw who can speak from experience with behavioral health and struggles, and even the desire to take one's own life."
Both will attended a pair of training sessions set for 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at the Solomon Center on Sept. 25, as well as a senior leaders luncheon at the NCO Club that involves Fort Jackson's command group that day.
"Hopefully, this will give them some encouragement and some education," Franklin said. "We have great leaders here on post, but sometimes hearing it from a different source can create new motivations. That's what we hope will happen at the luncheon."
On Sept. 26, these guests will visit with the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy, the Chaplain Center and School and at least one other unit to speak about suicide prevention with senior staffers.
On Sept. 28-29, ASAP will be conducting two days of Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training for installation leadership.
"It's the premiere suicide intervention training in the world," he said. "We provide this almost monthly, and were going to do a two-day training at the end of the month. The class talks about how to intervene when you come upon somebody who's thinking of suicide, or someone who's next step may be suicide."
The course if considered to be suicide 'first aid,'" he said. "If I was running through the park and came upon someone I didn't know who had fallen and hit their head, I think all of us have been trained to look for the wound, look for bleeding," he said. "And, from there, to look for breathing and signs of life as we prepare to call 911 to get more support for the person.
"In the same manner, if I come across someone who may be bleeding psychologically or emotionally, I want to help slow that bleeding and help them to allow me to get them more help."
Everything taking place in September is meant to move the needle forward on Fort Jackson's suicide prevention initiatives. The idea, Franklin said, isn't to spend a few weeks discussing the problem before knocking off for the holidays. Franklin said ASAP's eyes on on the future, on expanding Fort Jackson's efforts to incorporate resources from around the region.
"We want to motivate people to do more," he said. "We can always create more focus, more support on suicide prevention. There's not such a thing as 'too much.' We've already noticed that, since the first of the month, that several people have e-mailed the office to ask to get involved.
"Unfortunately, we also get people who say, 'My mother died by suicide,' 'My brother died by suicide,' 'I was deployed with someone who died by suicide.' A lot of those folks who come forward say they never dealt with it because they felt ashamed, they felt like they could have done more and felt guilty. Those folks are also asking us what they can do to get better, to feel better."
In the future, Franklin said, ASAP plans to include more survivors of suicide and provide a focus on survivors' skills.
"We want to get Fort Jackson, the city of Columbia and all the surrounding communities working together," he said. This involved working with community partners ranging from the S.C. National Guard, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and other organizations outside the gates that provide on-going support for Soldiers and veterans, and agencies that help people deal with loss and grieving.