New Handbooks Help Leaders Implement Suicide Prevention Program

By LeWonnie Belcher, Army Resilience DirectorateFebruary 24, 2022

Recent media coverage of a spate of high-profile suicides have brought home the reality that no one—regardless of race, gender, or economic status—is immune to the heartbreaking impacts of the sometimes-silent struggles that may lead a person to take their own life.

In support of the Service’s effort to mitigate the further rise in deaths by suicide, the Army recently started rolling out its new public health approach to Suicide Prevention, which includes two new handbooks to assist senior and unit commanders in implementing the program at local levels.

According to Dr. James A. Helis, Director of the Army Resilience Directorate, which oversees the Army Suicide Prevention Program, the guidebooks are complementary to a new regulation and pamphlet, which are scheduled for publication in first quarter of calendar year 2022.

The handbooks, “Senior Commander’s Guide to Suicide Prevention: Reducing Suicide in Army Formations” and “CALL to Action—Suicide Prevention: Reducing Suicide in Army Formations, Brigade and Battalion Commander’s Handbook” were produced as a result of a collaborative effort between the Army Resilience Directorate and Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Center for Army Lessons Learned.

“Engaged leadership is foundational to the suicide prevention policy,” said Helis. “The new regulation, pamphlet, and handbooks comprise the framework that will help leaders implement the suicide prevention program in a consistent manner across the force.”

Helis noted that program improvements were required to address concerns about a lack of coherent policy, which resulted in inconsistent execution at lower echelons.

Army senior commanders and leaders throughout the Army received advanced copies of the handbooks as part of the Vice Chief of the Army-led chain teach initiative that kicked off at the end of November 2021. As part of the chain teach, senior commanders must deliver in-person suicide prevention guidance to include available resources to subordinate commanders, eventually reaching the most junior leaders. Active Component must complete the chain teach by March 1, 2022, and Reserve Components no later than Sept. 1, 2022.

The handbooks provide leaders with insight into how the Army intends to utilize an upstream approach to build resilience, strengthen connection, encourage help-seeking behaviors, develop healthy coping strategies and intervention skills.

The Senior Commander handbook outlines leader responsibilities in executing the Army Suicide Prevention Program and guides leaders in leveraging the Commander’s Ready and Resilient Council, or CR2C, capabilities across echelon to effectively prevent suicide at the unit and community level.

The Unit Commander handbook guides leaders on the components they must know and apply to implement an effective suicide prevention program.

“The handbooks are intended to be user-friendly, living documents to help leaders identify and address risk and protective factors, and significantly reduce the likelihood of these devastating decisions by those who are struggling,” said Carrie Shult, Army Suicide Prevention Program Manager. “We need people to know that every life is a life worth living.”