By Capt. Kenneth R. Harris IIISeptember 11, 2018
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii (Sept. 13, 2018) -- A 33-year-old Army sergeant first class cavalry scout with three overseas combat tours, split between Iraq and Afghanistan, over 15 years of active service was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service from his most recent deployment to Afghanistan. He served as a scout platoon sergeant, the senior noncommissioned officer, responsible for leading over 30 Soldiers into combat. He battled years with what is believed to have been major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). During the late night hours of a winter evening, while his wife and children laid asleep, he departed his home with a loaded 9 mm pistol and took his own life.
Unfortunately, the story is one that is far too familiar within the military community.
World Suicide Prevention Day is Sept. 10, and the corresponding week of Sept. 9 to 15, is dubbed National Suicide Prevention Week. The month of September, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, helps promote resources and spread awareness regarding this complex issue. Additionally, it assists others with becoming comfortable with talking about suicide without increasing the risk of harm.
The 25th Infantry Division in conjunction with I Corps has adopted the theme "Value Life!" for its latest suicide prevention campaign; empowering Soldiers by equipping them to recognize peers exhibiting red flags, and emphatically asking all Soldiers to choose life!
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, each year over 44,190 Americans, approximately 121 per day, resort to suicide as a means for relief. Suicide is the second leading cause of injury-related deaths in the United States, behind vehicle accidents.
There's an average of 201 deaths by suicide annually in the state of Hawaii. Within the Army, suicide rates have historically been significantly lower than rates within the civilian population. However, beginning in 2008, the Army suicide rate rose above the national average, and in 2009, it was considered the third leading cause of death of Soldiers. In 2017, 116 active-duty Soldiers committed suicide; during the first quarter of 2018, the count was up to 35 deaths.
The current 2018 stats for U.S. Army Hawaii have identified 81 service members who endorsed experiencing a suicidal ideation, or thoughts of suicide. Empowerment efforts of the active community partners, supporters, and resources have contributed towards zero deaths by suicide, to date. The Army community has taken significant measures towards decreasing the prevalence of suicide and other mental health challenges by addressing the issue from both the organizational-policy level as well as unit level.
Community members interested in getting involved in spreading awareness about suicide prevention can attend the Schofield Barracks Health Clinic's Department of Behavioral Health's Suicide Prevention Pledge Ceremony on Sept. 14, and its annual Behavioral Health Open House on Sept. 27. All unit command teams, key leaders, as well as military and civilian community members and their spouses are cordially invited.
With modern advances in modes of battlefield medical evacuations and military medicine, Soldiers who once may have died on the battlefields of war are now living to share their stories. For many these traumatic narratives leave behind masked psychological and spiritual wounds of war, in conjunction with more apparent physical injuries (traumatic brain injury, PTSD, moral injury, etc.).
There are challenges in determining how to identify the individuals within our communities who may be suffering under the misnomer that they are alone in their pain, and supporting them through the help seeking process.
Army behavioral health care professionals are trained to identify and assess for risk and develop safety plans with Soldiers and family members who seek help. Due to the ongoing battle to decrease the stigma of seeking behavioral health care within the Army, many at-risk Soldiers decide not to pursue services. In many cases their reluctance to disclose personal thoughts of self-harm may emanate from fear of being misunderstood, apprehension regarding the potential for career limiting implications, or being labeled as weak or subpar, among other barriers.
The concept of embedded behavioral health care teams was incorporated to increase access to care for Soldiers, enable clinicians to develop stronger relationships with unit leaders, and to aid in the continuity of care, and assist leaders in managing unit readiness by establishing multidisciplinary healthcare elements within unit footprints.
In conjunction with the current organizational focus on building resilience across the force, there are fundamental measures that individual Soldiers can contribute to aid in improving resiliency, and decreasing instances of suicide. This collective effort begins with empowering one another to seek help, when needed.
For those in need of professional resources, the Hawaii State Department of Health, in partnership with local military installations and state community organizations, provides the following resources: Crisis Text Line (741741); Military/Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-TALK (8255) Military Press 1); and R2 Performance Center (808) 655-9804. Additional military specific resources include: Military One Source, your unit Embedded Behavioral Health Team, or the Tripler Army Medical Center ER at (808) 433-6661.