FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Ask, Care and Escort.
The Army uses the ACE model — Ask, Care and Escort — to remind Soldiers, leaders and civilian team members that if you notice someone who seems to be struggling emotionally, you should make it your business to check on them, to ask how they’re doing and, if you have a concern, to ask directly about suicide. If someone expresses they’ve been having suicidal thoughts, you should demonstrate care and compassion and make sure you get them to professionals who can provide the support they need.
During Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, it’s a good time to be reminded of that simple method of looking out for one another. It’s also a good time to think about the things we should all be doing in our own lives to help ensure we don’t find ourselves in crisis.
Those who study suicide have identified risk factors, such as substance abuse, relationship problems and a history of depression or mental illness. However, researchers have also found there are a number of reliable protective factors as well, such as spirituality, social connections and consistent, quality sleep. People who have these protective factors in their lives have a much lower risk of suicide.
Spirituality can be expressed in many ways. For some, it is participation in formal religious practices within a faith community. Others may practice their spirituality privately in meditation, prayer or journaling. Spirituality can even be as simple as having a personal conviction that one is serving a greater purpose than just surviving day to day. Regardless of how one’s spirituality is expressed, experts have said a strong spiritual foundation is one of the most important protective factors a person can have against depression and suicide.
If you’re concerned about your level of spiritual fitness, speak to your chaplain or faith leader, or an acquaintance whose spirituality you admire. More information on religious support opportunities here is available on the Fort Leonard Wood website. Call 573.563.6126 to reach a chaplain for an emergency after regular duty hours, or over weekends and holidays.
Three-quarters of the protective factors against suicide listed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention involve relationships and community. Relationships and belonging are a two-way street. Not only do strong relationships and community bonds help us to be healthy and resilient, but our participation in such groups provides strength to others as well. Additionally, feeling like a part of something bigger than oneself — such as with one’s family and community — reinforces the spiritual fitness that also builds resilience.
If you feel like you could be doing better with social connections, the fix may be as simple as making an effort. If you need someone to help you think about where and how you might fit in, our community has many resources: chaplains, behavioral health, Military and Family Life Counselors and the Employee Assistance Program, to name a few.
Lack of sleep and sleep disturbance — insomnia and, specifically, being awake in the night — has been identified as a significant risk factor in suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and suicide. Experts have found disturbed sleep can be a factor in mood disorders such as depression, and there tends to be an increase in suicidal thoughts among those awake in the night hours — people who changed from a poor sleep-wake pattern to a more regular sleep-wake pattern had reduced suicidal risk.
If you are concerned about your sleep patterns, or want to learn more about the benefits of healthy sleep, Fort Leonard Wood’s Army Wellness Center is available to help. Call 573.596.9677 for more information.
Of course, there are many other factors that contribute to our well-being and resilience — physical health, for example — but these three areas are a good place to start.