NATICK, Mass. - In the continuing battle against suicide in its ranks, our Army has worked to increase awareness and add support in as many ways as possible. Natick Soldier Systems Center leans on the chaplain as one of the resources to provide support and assistance with those struggling with suicide.
While September is the DOD observed National Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month, NSSC emphasizes the importance of awareness and prevention throughout the year. U.S. Army chaplain, Maj. Mark Miller works to continue the conversation on this topic and shares strategies as a person on the front lines of suicide prevention.
“Suicide awareness and prevention is much more than an annual observance that comes around once a year,” said Miller. “It is an awareness of a tragedy that is within our force 365 days a year.”
Miller stresses the importance of working together and of paying attention to each other as we work to lower the number of suicides within the military community.
“It is our business to care for people,” Miller said. “Helping people to get help is what we ultimately want. We want to make certain that people have the resources that they need. We want to ensure that we are aware of people who are hurting and that we are empowering others to do the same.”
The Army’s Warrior Ethos reads in part, “I will never leave a fallen comrade,” and that principle dictates everyone does everything possible to minimize risks that Soldiers and their Families face.
Eliminating suicide requires involvement from every Soldier, leader, Family member, and Army Civilian, according to Lt. Col. Andrew White, USAG-Natick commander. “It takes connection and personal involvement in the lives of those around us to prevent and intervene. We can never hope to eliminate suicide until we communicate the importance of every life and care for the family members, fellow Soldiers, and teammates we interact with on a daily basis. We must not fear getting into the challenges of life and walking with them in the challenges, pain, depression, and fear. Together, one life at a time, we can make positive steps toward eliminating suicide.”
The 2021 theme for Suicide Awareness and Prevention is “Connect to Protect – Support is Within Reach.” Miller added that the Army focuses on leaders knowing their team, and knowing their peers.
“It is important to be aware of some key indicators when it comes to possible suicide ideation in a person,” said Miller. “While first-line supervisors and peers are usually the first line of defense against suicide, there are other key tools in the fight.
“Connecting with people is very important. Have a conversation that is meaningful and that goes beyond the surface. If I could encourage anyone to do anything, it would be to take time. Whether that is virtually or in person, you can help either way. Picking up the phone and making a phone call can be what helps. If you find a person who is hurting, have that conversation. Try to be transparent,” Miller said.
While a transparent conversation is a key, Miller said the most important step to take when it comes to Suicide Prevention and Awareness is to ask for help.
“Reach out to someone such as the chaplain, behavioral health, call 911, go to the hospital, reach out to somebody and ask for help,” said Miller. “If you know someone who is hurting, get them the help they need. And, most importantly, follow up to show that you are there with them. You may not be a professional caregiver, but you want them to know that you are sticking with them.”
Miller also addressed a concern for those left behind after a suicide. Many times, people focus on and think about the person who died and sometimes forgetting those who are grieving.
“That pain is a very real thing,” Miller said. “There are many unanswered questions. There are some assumptions that we make about people who are left behind to deal with this. We may assume they have the support they need. We should not assume that.
“For anyone who has been impacted by suicide recognize the need to process the loss and recognize that therapy can help you. And, for those of us who are caregivers, who have experienced the death of someone by suicide, it is important to stay connected and offer that chance to have a conversation and process the pain of it. It is a very real continuous part of their life,” Miller said.
According to the 2021 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, there were 6,261 Veteran suicide deaths in 2019.
Soldiers, Family members, and Department of the Army Civilian teammates who might be struggling with suicide can seek additional assistance by contacting the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat or Military One Source at 1-800-342-9647.