FORT CARSON, Colo. — In times of uncertainty and unrest some people may feel that their problems are too overwhelming and they have only one way out.
The Army has seen a spike in suicides since the COVID-19 pandemic began. According to the Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office, the Army experienced 81 deaths by suicide in the first half of 2020 compared to 67 in the same time frame the previous year.
In response, 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson leadership has launched a “Holistic Counseling Program” as a part of their suicide prevention effort.
“As part of a robust suicide prevention effort, Fort Carson and (4th Inf. Div.) units will develop and implement holistic counseling programs and active measures to increase unit cohesion and decrease risk across the formation,” said Maj. Gen. Matthew W. McFarlane, commanding general, 4th Inf. Div. and Fort Carson, in a memorandum to the Soldiers. “Holistic counseling means getting to know your Soldiers personally and professionally, demonstrating caring and empathetic leadership, and enhancing morale and welfare through actively communicating with the team.”
As part of the Holistic Counseling Program, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) teaches Soldiers how to intervene if someone may be considering suicide.
“They learn how to look for signs in someone who is thinking about suicide, and once they see that, asking the question — listening to their story, helping them to find a reason to live or help them discover their reason to live,” said Cherll Paxton, Fort Carson Suicide Prevention Program manager. “Then (help) them decide what safety looks like to them and getting them to that point where they decide to live instead of committing suicide.”
An example of ASIST being used is when Staff Sgt. Nolan Shockley, traffic investigator, 759th Military Police Battalion, applied his ASIST training to help him talk with a Soldier and get him to reconsider committing suicide.
On Aug. 19, 2020, Shockley responded to an incident that involved a Soldier with suicidal ideations.
“I was trying to take a relaxed stance so I had not drawn my weapon or Taser yet,” said Shockley. “After I started talking to him I realized that he doesn’t want to (commit suicide); he just wants his story heard.”
The ASIST training program is no longer paid for by the Army so the cost falls to the installation command if they wish to use it. Fort Carson and 4th Inf. Div. are committed to this program and are ordering more training kits, Paxton said.
Paxton has one message to everyone who completes the ASIST program.
“It’s not a matter of if you intervene, it’s a matter of when you intervene,” she said. “Either people are going to innately know that you are trained or you’re going to be adept at knowing what the signs are. It’s only a matter of time before you are doing an intervention.”
For more information about ASIST and how to schedule training, contact Paxton at 526-0401 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.