REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- As the U.S. joins the world in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, another public health crisis has overshadowed American culture for many years – the unrelenting number of suicide deaths.
Throughout the nation, May is recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month, an observance bringing attention to mental illnesses and suicide deaths; and the impact they have on American families. That impact can also affect Army readiness, said Skip Johnson, the Suicide Prevention program manager at Army Materiel Command Headquarters, Redstone Arsenal.
In recent figures released by the Army, 79 active-duty Soldiers committed suicide in the fourth quarter 2019 and first quarter 2020, the highest such number since the last two quarters in 2016.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a lot of stress and distress, and that can lead to a sense of hopelessness and to depression, and, in some cases, to suicide,” Johnson said. “COVID-19 has led to a lot of uncertainty and that means we’re playing it extra-safe, which has resulted in all the stay-at-home orders across the country. The normal routines of our life have been turned upside down in some unique ways. No one’s life will ever be stress free, but we’re now dealing with new forms of stress.”
Johnson recommends the use of the following coping tools to alleviate stress:
• Attitude of Gratitude – Taking time every day to write down three things to be grateful for can help identify positive aspects on even the worst days.
• Acts of Kindness – A simple act of kindness – such as a phone call, sending a greeting card, delivering a care package – for someone else can make the day better for both the giver and the recipient.
• Power of Exercise – Studies have shown people who are physically active have increased energy, superior immune systems and a recurring sense of accomplishment. Exercise can also reduce insomnia, stimulate brain growth and act as an anti-depressant.
• Meditation Adds Strength – Research has linked meditation with reduced anxiety and more positive emotions.
• Positive Journaling – People who take the time to write about positive events in their lives have a habit of focusing on the things that make them happy and give them a sense of well-being.
• Building Connections – Strong social connections are thought to be one of the most powerful influences on emotional well-being and create higher levels of happiness.
• DOD-endorsed T2 Mood Tracker – This app, available for free for Android and Apple phones, allows people with anxiety, brain injury, depression, post-traumatic stress or stress to monitor their moods and general well-being. It is available at: http://myhealthapps.net/app/details/18/T2-Mood-Tracker.
In addition, the Army's resilience training assists Soldiers and civilian employees with the ability to assess situations and look beyond feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, said AMC’s Health Promotion Program Manager Valerie Francis.
“At the foundation of the training is optimism, which gives us hope that the situation will get better, in other words, looking at the glass half full instead of half empty,” said Francis, who, as a Master Resilience Trainer, conducts resiliency training for AMC employees. “Yes, the current challenge has resulted in social distancing, financial uncertainty and overall changes in everyday living; however, we will get through it. The key is focusing on positive thoughts and being grateful for each day.”
Army resiliency training gives employees life skills to face challenges like COVID-19 and to remain ready to meet the needs of the nation, she said.
“The core concepts include optimism, mental agility, building connections and conducting self-assessments-inner reflection,” Francis said. “More now than ever, the COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of the training’s value and importance. The Army needs Soldiers, civilians and family members constantly ready to address unexpected challenges whether at home or work.”
Employees who are resilient have the coping skills to overcome challenges, frustrations and difficult situations. They also know when they need to ask for help, Francis said.
“Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength,” Francis said. “For many, asking for help is difficult so that is why it is so important for us to check on colleagues, family, friends and neighbors. Just a simple text, email or call can make a difference is someone's life. That one act of concern or kindness may just save a life.”
AMC employees who are feeling anxious, stressed or depressed, Johnson said, should share their feelings with their supervisor, health care provide, helpmate or religious leader. In addition, they can get assistance by calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255; Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255; or Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Treatment Referral Helpline: 1‑877‑726‑4727.