Strengthening Suicide Prevention: Training Initiatives in the Army

By Damenica McAlister and Jennika Walton, Directorate of Prevention, Resilience and ReadinessJune 26, 2024

Suicide remains a pressing concern within the military community, demanding continuous efforts to enhance prevention strategies and support systems. Among these efforts, training plays a pivotal role in equipping Army personnel with the skills and knowledge necessary to identify risk factors, intervene effectively, and provide support to those in need. The Directorate of Prevention, Resilience and Readiness continues to make progress in suicide prevention training efforts, including implementing recommendations provided by the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee’s 2022 Report.

The committee made several recommendations to the services to improve training efforts, such as:

·      Modernizing suicide prevention education.

·      Tailoring content to different audiences.

·      Delivering training in small groups.

·      Varying duration and frequency.

·      Offering a variety of training topics to increase engagement.

DPRR prioritizes Soldier and Family support, focusing on genuine care and adhering to the voices of our service members. DPRR has remained steadfast in its commitment to educating Soldiers on prevention skills and concepts and will continue to consult with commanders to assess the gaps in training topics, enhance training with qualified facilitators, and collaborate with researchers to deliver interactive training content.

The latest Army Suicide Prevention Regulation (AR 600-92) outlines suicide prevention training objectives and emphasizes learning about suicide-related behaviors, stressors, intervention skills and postvention principles. The regulation mandates Ask, Care, Escort as the standard training, which includes a 30-minute base module that covers suicide intervention skills and an additional 30-minute module that commanders can select to tailor suicide prevention training to the needs of their units. Commanders can choose from four new modules: Active Listening, Fighting Stigma, Practicing ACE and Lethal Means Safety, the last of which is still in development.

The regulation also requires that leaders E-5 and above and DA Civilian supervisors are trained in the first tier of the eight-hour Ask, Care, Escort - Suicide Intervention course. It aims to teach attendees how to recognize early suicide warning signs, combat stigma related to disclosure and seeking help, utilize resources, understand risk and protective factors, and support reintegration and postvention following a suicide loss or attempt. Additional ACE-SI training includes the second tier, which is a Train-the-Trainer model. Tier 2 is a 16-hour course for leaders and prevention professionals that includes the Tier 1 training along with a module focused on small-group facilitation practice. Successful completion involves a teach-back to certify attendees for conducting ACE-SI Tier 1 training.

Trainers are key to ensuring training is effective and well-received by attendees. As such, commanders play an important role in ensuring training effectiveness by vetting instructors. Eligible trainers ranked E-6 to E-8, CW2 to CW3, and O-2 to O-4 must embody key attributes and traits essential for effective training and leadership. Instructors should:

·      Be attentive and engaging.

·      Be empathetic.

·      Be motivated.

·      Be flexible and open minded.

·      Have positive beliefs about behavioral health and prevention.

·      Have a desire to train and develop others.

·      Demonstrate compassionate leadership.

·      Display an active involvement in Soldiers’ lives.

There are misconceptions that suicide prevention training increases thoughts of suicide, but this is untrue. Such training focuses on fostering empathy, understanding and effective intervention strategies, which can ultimately reduce suicidal ideation by promoting help-seeking behaviors and providing support to those in need. It is important to note that subject matter experts hold a firm stance against units implementing suicide prevention training as a postvention response. While it’s valuable for proactive measures, it’s not appropriate or effective as a reactive response to suicide attempts or death-by-suicide. Postvention actions should instead focus on immediate support, grief counseling, community building and other strategies aimed at healing and preventing further harm within the affected unit.

For more information on training, visit, Army Suicide Prevention Program: Suicide Prevention Training and Education.