FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — The Army has a new suicide prevention tool to assist in its efforts to cultivate a culture where asking for help is no longer perceived as a sign of weakness.
Called Resources Exist, Asking Can Help, or REACH, the training helps individuals explore perceived or real barriers to seeking help, said Malia Nemetz, Fort Leonard Wood Army Substance Abuse Program specialist and Installation Suicide Prevention Program manager, who completed a train the trainer REACH course in September and will be implementing the new program here in the coming months to augment the suicide prevention program already in place.
“REACH is not a traditional suicide prevention training focused on how to intervene when someone is showing warning signs of suicide,” she said. “It’s a mindset that places the focus on the individual and their own need to engage in proactive self-care in order to be mission ready.”
Polly Guthrie, ASAP manager, added that REACH is intended to teach people to “come to their own rescue.”
“It starts as a conversation and shows people how to lean forward and ask for assistance,” Guthrie said. “Just like flying in a plane and placing the oxygen mask on yourself first, so that you can then assist others around you, our personnel must learn that it is okay to first assist yourself before taking care of those around us.”
Developed by the Defense Department’s Office of People Analytics, REACH challenges facilitators to stimulate a meaningful discussion rather than simply conduct a training session. The use of multiple formats — a hands-on ice breaker, a short video, discussion times, and a practice call to Military OneSource — is designed to break up the flow and make the session engaging.
“We are trying to cultivate a new mindset around help-seeking in the military by emphasizing to service members that it is their individual responsibility to reach out for help and not suffer in silence,” Nemetz said. “We are empowering service members to use DOD, service branch and local resources without worrying about perceived or real barriers that stand in their way.”
Nemetz said the group discussions focus on the top barriers to mental health care, as they have been reported in the annual Status of Forces Survey of Active Duty Members. Those barriers include a fear of being perceived as “broken” by command or peers; concerns about negative career impact; concerns about privacy and confidentiality; a preference for self-reliance; not knowing which resources to use; and not trusting the effectiveness of available resources.
“The facilitator’s job is to leave no barrier to care unaddressed,” Nemetz said. “We are empowering service members not to give up until they find the help that they need.”
However, the culture change needs to occur at all levels to be effective, Nemetz added.
“We need to help military leaders at all levels recognize that REACH is not only for their Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines — it’s for them, too,” she said. “None of us are immune from problems in life. We are all a part of this transformation.”
Service members have indicated that their preferred format for suicide prevention training is small-group discussions facilitated by another service member, Nemetz said. A REACH session includes up to 15 participants, and, ideally, service members are grouped by rank to better promote open sharing and the internalization of REACH.
“Typically, leaders do not openly discuss their barriers to care with their senior leaders present in the room, or around their subordinates,” Nemetz said. “Similarly, if leaders are grouped with their subordinates, leaders seem to feel compelled to put their helper hat on instead of internalizing REACH to themselves.”
One of the key points during a REACH session is a mock call to Military OneSource, which is a resource for confidential help that Nemetz called “extremely valuable.”
“But REACH also serves as a nexus to local resources we want to promote,” Nemetz said. “It is powerful to have a chaplain attend the REACH sessions, for example, to highlight the 100 percent confidentiality of their services, put a face to a name, and encourage service members to reach out for help. It may be equally powerful to have a military and family life counselor and a representative from the mental health clinic attend the REACH sessions and introduce themselves to service members. Bringing local resources to REACH sessions is designed to reinforce a feeling of connectedness and belonging.”
For more information on the REACH program, call 573.596.6754 or visit https://www.reach.gov.