While social interactions are limited as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19, leaders and Soldiers can still find ways to practice ‘supportive’ distancing and maintain connections with fellow Soldiers, Family members and friends. These connections are especially important if they think a fellow Soldier may be having a hard time with social isolation during the pandemic.

One way to assist someone who may be struggling is by practicing the skills needed to act when an intervention is needed. According to Army Resilience Directorate (ARD) subject matter expert, Laura Kirschner, a contractor, there are many reasons why bystanders do not step in when there are signs of trouble.

“From the research, we know it's not always people's first instinct to step up and help someone in need. There are three critical stages that can prevent someone from helping a fellow Soldier, friend or Family member,” said Kirschner. Those three stages are:

1. The individual is unaware of the warning signs that help is needed.

2. The individual is unsure if they want to take responsibility for engaging.

3. The individual is unsure of what to do in that moment.

“Unless you notice warning signs and they register as a concern to you, you won't step in to help,” said Kirschner. She added, “during COVID-19, when we are less likely to engage with our peers on a day-to-day basis, we may see even fewer warning signs because we aren't around the individual.”

Kirschner recommends the following five action steps to stay connected, identify signs that someone is struggling, and respond during the pandemic:

·        Check in with your battle buddies, Family and Soldiers. Ask how people are doing, ask about Family tension, ask about drinking habits and ask how people are managing loneliness and isolation.

·        Lower your threshold on what makes you engage. If someone makes a comment that concerns you during a check-in call, or you see a social media post that makes you hesitate, trust your instincts and engage. Seeing one cryptic text, post or comment should be enough to stop what you're doing and check in more thoroughly with an individual.

·        Have a plan. Many times, people do not step up because they aren't sure of the "right" way to do it. Kirschner suggests developing a list of questions that you want to ask the person and gather a few resources in advance, so you are more confident in your conversation plan. Her advice is to begin the question with "what," which tends to make people feel less defensive than questions that start with "why.” For example, "what was going on for you and your Family when you posted that?" will likely lead to less defensiveness than "why did you post that about your Family?"

·        Triangulate. If you know the person's circle of friends or Family, you can always check in with others to see if they've noticed anything concerning as well.

·        Get a leader involved. If the thought crosses your mind, "It isn't really my problem to make sure this person is okay..." then notify a leader in your organization that you think they should check in on a certain individual. Or notify an individual's Family or friend that you are concerned. Then most importantly, follow-up! Check in and see what happened.

Sgt. Maj. Gabriel D. Harvey, senior enlisted advisor for ARD, encourages fellow leaders to implement creative outreach opportunities, such as starting a physical fitness challenge or providing healthy eating tips as ways to check in with individuals within their unit during this social distancing period. He encourages Soldiers to check on their leaders as well.

“As a leader, knowing that you have others counting on you provides motivation to make it through any personal struggles that you may be experiencing yourself,” said Harvey. “Letting your Soldiers know you are thinking about them and their well-being as well as that of their Family, if they have one, can mean the world to those who may be going through a hard time.”

The Army recognizes that Soldiers need to practice intervention skills on a regular basis. The action steps outlined above are a few of the fundamental concepts Soldiers learn in “Engage,” a peer-to-peer training offered by all R2 Performance Centers. Engage is a skill taught by Master Resilience Trainers-Performance Experts (MRT-PEs) to help Soldier’s develop the confidence to intervene if they notice a change in a fellow Soldier’s behavior. The skill can be used to encourage engagement across a wide variety of situations. It also enhances communication and helps build a culture of trust in a unit.

For more resources, or to learn about Engage or get information on how to take an individual session, contact your local R2 Performance Center. To find the one closest to you visit: https://readyandresilient.army.mil/r2performancecenters.html.