By Ms. Elyssa Vondra (Fort Jackson)September 6, 2018
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness month, and Fort Jackson is playing its part.
Over the next 30 days, a number of initiatives and events will take place to raise awareness for suicide prevention. Although there are ongoing suicide prevention efforts throughout the year, they will be amplified for this national event. Both the secular and the religious forces on post will have a leading role.
"It's like our Christmas in September," said Aljournal "Ajaye" Franklin, manager of Fort Jackson's Suicide Prevention Program.
On Tuesday, ACE cards were distributed at gates one and two. ACE stands for Ask, Care, Escort. This is the Army motto for helping people who exhibit suicidal tendencies, Franklin said. It means that when an individual is acting atypically, a person close to them should ask about their mindset, pay attention to how they respond and get them help if needed.
Last year, about 3,500 cards were distributed in September. Franklin hopes they will pass out at least that many again in 2018.
Also upcoming are two informal "chat and chew" luncheons Sept. 5 and Sept. 12.
These free lunches will provide an opportunity for the community to openly discuss suicide prevention. Last year, two were held in September and about 20 people showed up to each, Franklin said.
These events are key because when community members are "brown-bagging it … that's often when the most important discussions occur," he said.
In previous "chat and chews," topics such as when abnormal characteristics should be addressed have been discussed. A forum will help answer questions posed by the community, with Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Rodie Lamb leading the spiritual component of the discussion.
On Sept. 17-18, the Solomon Center will host suicide prevention training. Community partners and a panel will be available to provide information to participants with questions about suicide prevention.
Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, or ASIST, will be taught on post Sept. 27-28. Chaplains also act as teachers during these sessions.
"We train our leaders as well," Lamb said. Chaplains visit units and look for opportunities to talk to Soldiers about their emotional wellbeing, he added.
"Finding purpose and meaning in life" and providing education, a "community of belonging," and a "focus on helping others" is how the church brings hope to people with thoughts of suicide, said Lamb, Fort Jackson's deputy Garrison chaplain.
"People are hurting out there," he added. Opening the conversation about suicide prevention is where chaplains come in during suicide prevention awareness month. Generating awareness for the cause -- perhaps even through the pulpit -- is another role of the religious community this September, he added.
Counseling Soldiers is a daily task for Fort Jackson chaplains. They are non-reporters, so what is told to them remains strictly confidential. Hundreds of people receive their assistance, Lamb said.
Franklin said the Department of Defense mandates the installation observe the month, but the community has been able to go above and beyond expectations because of its members' receptivity.
"Fort Jackson has developed a hardy response," Franklin said. "Fort Jackson is a very synergistic post."
Taking time to prevent suicide is pivotal to the mission of the Army because suicide is a massive threat to the lives of Soldiers, especially those between 18 and 30 years old, Franklin said.
Fort Jackson has a "high number of ideations," Franklin said; a lot of Soldiers report suicidal thoughts to their superiors. However, there is a "small number of suicides" that are actually carried out.
A compilation of issues often leads to suicidal tendencies, Franklin said. For instance, relationship problems, self image distress and financial woes can combine to make someone feel helpless and hopeless. These feelings can lead to thoughts of suicide, he said.
Having tight-knit relationships can help prevent suicide. Knowing loved ones' typical attributes is important. If something changes for the worse, and a person's mood and/or behavior sombers, it can be more easily detected. The "ACE" model can then be used to prevent suicide.
"Suicide impacts us all," Franklin said. No one is immune to being overtaken by helplessness and hopelessness. Suicide doesn't discriminate by rank, income or nationality.
"We have to develop an attitude that everyone is important," Franklin continued. Every person's feelings need to be honored.