Natick, Mass. -- Training is an essential part of everyday life in the Army. For Soldiers in the field, understanding their equipment, and how to operate it during the heat of battle, could be the difference between life and death. Though physically and mentally demanding, this type of rigorous training is highly regarded as a necessary and vital part being a Soldier.
Off the field of battle, Army Soldiers and civilians face battles of a more personal nature. Unfortunately, because of stigma, and other factors, training on these issues may not generate the same level of enthusiasm. For years, drug, alcohol, and suicide prevention coordinators have struggled to generate passion for mental health related training topics.
The Department of the Army recognized this issue, and accordingly, has given garrisons the flexibility to adapt training methods to better suit target audiences. Leaders at U.S. Army Garrison Natick (USAG) have taken this directive an established a creative and innovative new approach to training the workforce.
"What we've decided to do is look at the whole picture," said Kari Sharpe, director of Human Resources, USAG Natick. "We can talk about suicide every year. We can talk about drug and alcohol every year. What is too much? Why you shouldn't use drugs. We can talk about suicide statistics. But what's at the bottom of these behaviors? What is at the underlying root of these issues and why aren't we talking about them?"
Sharpe believes the contract with the U.S. Army Garrison Employee Assistance Program (ESPYR) to provide an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that focuses on addressing the root causes of substance abuse, with a focus on mental health, is the answer.
"Being able to talk about mental health and understanding how it impacts all of us is incredibly important," said Sharpe. "We all can have problems in our lives, whether they be depressive episodes, anything. We have family members impacted by mental health. So let's talk about mental health. That's really where this topic came up. If you're required to go to live training on the subject every year, let's make it something a little different, a little more interesting. Let's talk about the bigger issues associated with suicide and substance abuse -- like mental health," said Sharpe.
Sharpe believes this new training is important for two reasons: it meets the Army's annual "personal readiness" training requirements (formally suicide prevention and alcohol and substance abuse prevention training), and even more importantly, the training tackles topics affecting everyone.
"Every single person is impacted by mental health concerns during their lifetime," said Sharpe. "Even when we as individuals are mentally healthy, we have children, parents, siblings, friends, co-workers and more who also may struggle with mental health at some point. Our ability to understand mental health matters, and support that is available, makes it easier to help ourselves and support others we care about when needed."
"It's all about minimizing suffering," said Meg Price, a licensed mental health counselor. "One in four adults experience mental health issues, and suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States."
Price's training to the garrison was focused on assisting the workforce in understanding mental health concerns, both personally and professionally, and how best to assist and respond to those in distress. The training provided managers and employees with the necessary resources.
"One of the best things we can do to address growing suicide and substance abuse rates is to talk openly about mental health," said Sharpe. "It is time to eliminate the stigma of reaching out for help, and encourage those in our lives to do the same."
If you, or anyone you know is suffering, there are many great resources available. For example:
National Alliance on Mental Illness: www.nami.org
National Institute of Mental Health: www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml
Job Accommodation Network (JAN): https://askjan.org
Mental Health America: www.mentalhealthamerica.net
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-825