Fort Leonard Wood program uses holistic approach to prevent suicides

Sharell Cureton, a psychology technician at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, performs what's called a triage ― a risk screening ― when she first meets with individuals who may be at risk of harming themselves or others. Fort Leonard Wood offers a holistic suicide awareness program focused on not only treatment but prevention.
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Sharell Cureton, a psychology technician at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, performs what's called a triage ― a risk screening ― when she first meets with individuals who may be at risk of harming themselves or others. Fort Leonard Wood offers a holistic suicide awareness program focused on not only treatment but prevention. (Photo Credit: Photo illustration by Brian Hill, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office) VIEW ORIGINAL
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FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Although September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, “We’re all responsible for preventing suicides every day,” according to Fort Leonard Wood’s suicide prevention program manager.

To help do this, leaders on post have brought together the skills of professionals from the General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, the Army Substance Abuse Program, Army Community Service and others to provide a holistic suicide awareness program focused on not only treatment but prevention.

Prevention

The Fort Leonard Wood Suicide Prevention Program falls under the Army Substance Abuse Program, and according to Polly Guthrie, ASAP manager, the trainings and campaigns her specialists organize bring a mindset here that suicide prevention is something that needs to be remembered daily.

“We don’t just look at [suicide prevention] as a once-per-year event,” she said. “We really emphasize the importance of reaching out to Soldiers, friends, families and teammates daily. That begins by connecting with peers and supervisors connecting with their employees, seeing changes in their behavior and being able to step in and ask the hard questions: Are you ok? Do you need help? What’s going on? Because we never want to lose anybody to suicide.”

Two types of prevention trainings are currently being offered to service members and civilians here, Guthrie said.

The training everyone receives is called ACE, short for “Ask, Care and Escort.”

Guthrie said when someone needs help:

  • Ask battle buddies and family members if they are thinking about harming themselves. Asking won’t increase the likelihood they will commit suicide or place the idea in their head.
  • Care for battle buddies and family members by listening and reassuring them that immediate help is available. Calmly talk to them and use words like, “Let me make sure I understand you, do you mean…” and remove any means they might use to harm themselves.
  • Escort battle buddies and family member to get help. This can be an emergency room, a primary care provider or a behavioral health professional. If they refuse to go, do not leave them alone. Call 9-1-1 if necessary.

To assist Guthrie’s ASAP specialists, chaplains assigned to unit ministry teams provide ACE training to service members and Guy Caley with the Employee Assistance Program is responsible for providing suicide prevention as part of the Personal Readiness training Department of Defense civilians receive.

“I like the program,” Guthrie said. “The training is effective in helping our people see how important it is to make that human connection — it saves peoples’ lives.”

Guthrie said ASAP also now conducts what’s called ACE-SI training — a more advanced level of prevention training that incorporates suicide intervention and awareness of the stigma that sometimes follows someone who receives behavioral health assistance. It’s a newer course, and the goal is to have 100 percent of service members E-6 and above trained by the end of the year.

“ACE is the basic component,” Guthrie said. “ACE-SI encompasses what’s called reintegration. If someone were to go to behavioral health or to inpatient hospitalization, it would help the commanders and team leaders be able to reintegrate that service member back into the unit.”

Malia Nemetz, ASAP specialist and Installation Suicide Prevention Program manager, conducts many of the training sessions. She said the intervention part is “a step beyond” what is required in annual prevention training.

“This intervention piece is where we role model asking that hard question, stopping stigma and increasing the ability to ask for help,” she said. “We’re building protective factors to stop an incident beforehand. That’s what most of our discussions are about — building those protective factors, the positive coping skills, the master resiliency skills — finding healthy activities as outlets for stress. Half of that prevention portion is just talking about the resources available.”

Nemetz said a big part of prevention is building a positive, open command climate.

“Stigma is what we’re trying to fight,” she said. “We want a force that’s strong and can ask for help.”

Leader investment matters

Having leaders on post who prioritize bringing together all of the resources necessary to build an effective suicide prevention program is an important aspect, and Rachelle Harvey, ASAP’s Community Ready and Resilient integrator, assists in keeping suicide prevention on peoples’ minds.

Harvey participates in readiness working groups, where behavioral, spiritual and family issues are discussed. She noted the quarterly Commanders Ready and Resilient Council, or CR2C, as it’s called, is a big help in bringing agencies together to solve problems.

“We have leadership who listen and they support us and that’s a key to making anything successful,” she said. “I believe what I like most about the CR2C process is it pulls together agencies from across the installation and the community to address issues. Each brings their unique perspective and skill set. When everyone brainstorms, effective initiatives are developed. There are so many passionate people out there who are dedicated to our Fort Leonard Wood community.”

Harvey said an effective suicide prevention program is bigger than simply talking about suicide — Fort Leonard Wood’s stress management initiative, for example, exists to “push out resources” that empower the individual, such as the ACS financial readiness program.

“When you look at issues that lead people to thoughts of suicide, monetary issues are a big one; relationship issues are another,” Harvey said. “Maybe you just want to make sure everything’s ok with you or your spouse and you want to seek relationship counseling before things get really bad, or you want to make a budget — we pull together those agencies so people can say, ‘This isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.’”

Screening for risk

Dr. Phillip Fellwock, Installation Director of Psychological Health at GLWACH, heads up the treatment side of the program.

To assist with Fort Leonard Wood’s training mission, Fellwock said providers are also embedded “directly in the footprints,” so a visit to GLWACH is not always necessary for a screening. This includes a presence at the 43rd Adjutant General Battalion, and at the Engineer, Military Police and Chemical training brigades and joint-service areas.

“Any behavioral health issues trainees might have — they can walk in, or cadre can bring them in, if there are questions or concerns,” Fellwock said. “This is not something that’s required by policy; this is something we’ve been doing here for many years and we see it as a best practice.”

The providers and prevention specialists also routinely visit the training units to present information.

“[The providers and specialists] have really good one-to-one relationships with the commanders,” Fellwock said.

Assisting in the communication process between commanders and behavioral health professionals is a new information form that was instituted over the past year, Fellwock said.

“Some of our providers and cadre got together and looked at best practices from other installations,” Fellwock said. “We came up with this form called [Command Information about Service Member Performance], so commanders can give us some information about why the trainee is at behavioral health; what incident, event or situation led to the decision to send the service member to behavioral health; and what a commander is wanting to know from us. It increases that communication back and forth.”

Trainees who need to talk with someone have “a lot of assets” here, Fellwock said.

“They’ve got their battle buddies, drill sergeants — they can walk into behavioral health if they’re having concerns.”

Fellwock agreed with Guthrie that people watching out for each other is one of the most important pieces in stopping suicide.

“We get a lot of service members brought to us because a battle buddy overheard something,” he said. “Those battles are really taking care of each other to ensure no harm comes to anybody.”

Fellwock said there’s never a time when somebody isn’t available to talk.

“We have on-call providers,” he said. “During business hours, anyone can walk in and we’re going to sit down with them.”

Talk to someone

Fellwock said he advises anyone having thoughts of harming themselves or others to talk to somebody about it.

”Don’t isolate yourself,” he said. “Human beings aren’t meant to exist in isolation. That’s one of the things we’ve seen with COVID — less social contact. We saw a spike in alcohol use across the world. People were drinking more because they weren’t able to socialize. Let somebody know how you’re feeling. Let a family member know, let a buddy know, let your spouse know, a chaplain — talk to somebody about what you’re feeling, what you’re going through. There’s all kinds of help out there if you will take advantage of it. Often times, what looks very difficult to overcome today might look different tomorrow with a new perspective, and others can give you perspective about what you’re going through.”

Fellwock added that if somebody is talking about harming themselves or others, help them get care.

“Walk in [to a treatment facility] with them,” he said. “I’ve had senior officers walk in with another officer, saying, ‘Hey, I’m really concerned. Would you mind talking to them?’”

Anyone thinking about suicide is encouraged to call GLWACH’s Behavioral Health Service Line at 573.596.0522, or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (8255), and press 1 for the Military Crisis Line, or text 8-3-8-2-5-5. Both are available 24/7. Additionally, Harvey recommended Military OneSource for assistance finding help. They can be reached at 1.800.342.9647, or online at https://www.militaryonesource.mil.