FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The past 20 years of global conflict have been challenging for our service members, civilians, retirees and families. Many of us have lost teammates, friends and loved ones. Sadly, our military has lost more of our own to suicide than to overseas contingency operations.
A climate of connectedness, caring and cohesiveness will help prevent suicide and other high-risk behaviors. Leaders: get to know those within your formations, their backgrounds and their family situations. Inspire a positive place to serve, where teams feel unified and where people show they care through acts such as daily check-ins; asking those to our left and right how things are going; and opening up to share with others. Never leaving a comrade means that we will not physically leave someone behind, but it also means that we will welcome and include every person on the team.
However, even in a positive environment, individuals can have suicidal thoughts. These thoughts and their root causes may be invisible to us, and warning signs are sometimes difficult to spot. Pay attention — teammates who are lonely or who have relationship or financial hardships are at increased risk. Individuals with anxiety, depression or trauma are also at higher risk, but keep in mind that ideations of self-harm can affect anyone at any time.
If you sense at all that one of our own is struggling, don’t hesitate to act. Move out on your instincts and intervene when something seems wrong. Show your teammate that support and resources are within reach. Escort a comrade to services, such as a chaplain, a substance abuse or financial services counselor, a trusted leader, or a behavioral health or medical professional. Share and post the Veteran’s Crisis hotline — 1.800.273.8255 (text 8-3-8-2-5-5) — and the free WeCare Fort Leonard Wood app. Most importantly, be there.
Remember, leadership is 24/7, so these acts of care extend beyond the lowering of the flag at retreat each day. We have an amazing team here at Fort Leonard Wood. I ask that each of you play an active role in knowing and supporting one another.
Victory Starts Here — Victory Through Skill!