Suicide Prevention: Reducing barriers through communication, trust at all levels

By David MillerFebruary 14, 2022

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. – Military members face daily challenges that range from minor to extremely difficult. One of the most challenging problems military leaders face today is the loss of members due to suicide. These tragic losses of life reverberate in Army formations and can undermine trust and cohesive teams.

The Army is implementing a public health approach to suicide based on the Centers for Disease Control suicide prevention efforts. The new, comprehensive, and integrated policies, focus on prevention rather than intervention.

According to the CDC, “Suicide and suicide attempts affect the health and well-being of friends, loved ones, co-workers, and the community. When people die by suicide, their surviving family and friends may experience shock, anger, guilt, symptoms of depression or anxiety, and may even experience thoughts of suicide themselves.”

Following the CY 2020 Annual Suicide Report, Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth and Gen. James McConville, Army Chief of Staff, highlighted the need to take care of people.

“We have a special obligation to make sure we are taking care of our people,” said Wormuth and McConville. “Leaders at every level of the Army are committed to identifying approaches that support suicide prevention. While there is no clear understanding of what is causing the increase in suicides, we realize we have to do better in preventing suicide and ensure resources are available and readily accessible.”

Gen. Joseph M. Martin, Army Vice Chief of Staff, led a chain teach initiative in Nov. 2021 designed to ensure consistent Army Suicide Prevention Program implementation across the force.

“Suicide is a societal issue, and the U.S. Army is not immune. Our formations comprise Soldiers that reflect the nation they’ve sworn to defend,” said Martin. "We, as leaders, owe it to each Soldier to educate their leaders at every echelon on how to recognize signs of mental health challenges, where to seek the appropriate resources, and the importance of ensuring individuals feel connected to others."

Leaders who foster trust and open communication can develop more meaningful relationships that can reduce the barriers to seeking help while increasing knowledge and understanding of available resources. This training, along with available resources, can contribute to the prevention of suicides across the Army.

Recently Lt. Gen. Scott McKean, Deputy Commanding General, Army Futures Command and Director, Futures and Concepts Center, led a Suicide Prevention Chain Teach event with senior leaders across FCC and subordinate organizations.

The chain teach is a leadership tool that involves direct instruction and a leader-led method that enables leaders to emphasize broader, integrated concepts to ensure comprehension.

"Leaders must remain focused on building cohesive teams with engaged leaders that are highly trained, disciplined, and fit, where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. Additionally, we have to provide Soldiers and their families with resources needed to strengthen their resilience and improve their personal readiness," said McKean.

"Although the report/ program focuses on our Soldiers, we here at FCC are part of a unique organization, and I want us to not just focus on our Soldiers but our civilians, contractors, and family members," McKean added. "Everyone that is part of FCC is special to meeting our mission requirements."

Following the leader's chain-teach session, McKean wants all supervisors and leaders to talk to their employees and Soldiers and emphasized the importance of communicating with one another and knowing your people.

This training with FCC senior leaders ensures personnel located across the world working on various projects in support of the Army's modernization efforts are trained in an asynchronous and interactive manner.

Capt. Susan Borchardt, Chief, Embedded Behavioral Health, 93rd Signal Brigade, talked about building trust. "I think the top-down approach can build trust and transparency between leaders and Soldiers if it is incorporated into establishing a family culture with true care and concern without becoming a check the block."

The Army is supporting a culture of trust through the Ready and Resilient strategy. This strategy is designed to strengthen individual and unit personal readiness and foster a culture of trust. R2 provides training and resources to the Army Family to enhance resilience and optimize performance.

"From a Behavioral Health perspective, we look at Suicide Prevention training from a life skills perspective. When a person has a sense of purpose, they have the foundation to endure hardships," said Borchardt.

Having a sense of purpose in your life is essential to well-being. Equally important is having a sense of purpose in your role at work.

R2 reinforces the Army Values, beliefs, and attitudes and educates members of the Army team about the importance of building connections with each other, taking care of one another, and supporting fellow Soldiers.

People want to be valued, and that value creates a strong and resilient individual.

According to Dr. Joseph Shrand, Harvard Medical School Instructor of Psychiatry and the originator of the I-M Approach, “Respect leads to value, and value leads to trust. People who trust feel safer than those who fear. You can use value to make someone less stressed, less angry, anxious, or sad, and more confident that they can remain in their protective group.”

The Army's Suicide Prevention Program supports the People First priority by developing and enhancing policies, training, awareness, data collection, and analysis designed to prevent suicide. The program helps build resilient, cohesive teams that foster a culture of trust and intervention. An effective prevention program relies on compassionate leadership and the development of partnerships across all echelons of the Army.

“We want our Soldiers to know that getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness. The Army’s goal is to make it as easy as possible for Soldiers to get the help they need,” said Wormuth and McConville.

Numerous organizations on Fort Eustis are available to assist, including the Ready and Resilience Performance Center, Behavioral Health, chaplains, Military and Family Life counselors, and Army Community Services.

More resources at Fort Eustis can be found here:

Additional resources include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Military Crisis Line/ Veterans Crisis Line, Military OneSource and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

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