By Alexandra Hemmerly-BrownJuly 16, 2010
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 16, 2010) -- The Army released a candid suicide prevention training video Thursday in an effort to deter the increasing number of suicides amongst troops.
Simultaneously released Thursday was the Army's suspected total number of suicides for the month of June -- 32 -- a record high. The uptick in numbers is a setback for the Army, which had seen a decline in suicides this year among active-duty Soldiers up to this point.
Replacing last year's scenario-based training videos, the new 15-minute film titled "Shoulder to Shoulder: I will never quit on life," features frank interviews of troops and their Families. Several of the Soldiers featured in the video speak of failed attempts at suicide and their path to receiving help.
The video will be incorporated into the Army's annual suicide-prevention training program which every Soldier is required to participate in.
"The impact on the Army for this issue continues to be one we view very closely," said Col. Christopher Philbrick, director of the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force, in a media briefing.
Philbrick said he is hopeful that the new video will resonate more accurately with troops.
"This is a far better video than last year," noted Philbrick. "I believe this is a valuable tool that is going to improve our ability to reach out and communicate with our Soldiers."
Philbrick explained that after last year's Army suicide stand-down, where all Soldiers were required to participate in training, senior leaders concluded that the approach wasn't working.
"I'd love to tell you it was a hit, but it wasn't," admitted Philbrick. He explained that part of the reason Soldiers weren't connecting with last year's videos might have been because some actors were used in the place of real troops.
He also said this video isn't an "end-all" to the Army's suicide prevention campaign, and there will likely be more videos and training guides produced in the future.
When asked what responsibility the Army feels for Reserve and National Guard Soldiers who commit suicide when not on active duty, Philbrick said, "In my view they're Soldiers. They are Soldiers 24/7. From the time they raise their right hand and swear the oath that all of us do, they become the responsibility of the U.S. Army."
Philbrick explained that it can sometimes be challenging for reserve-component Soldiers to receive the medical and psychological help they need, as they are not covered by Army medical care when not on active duty and often live far from an installation.
"We consider suicides in the Army National Guard the most extreme and significant indicator of stress on the force," agreed Col. Greg Bliss, chief of the Army National Guard Soldier and Family Support Division.
While there is no single answer as to why Soldiers' suicide rates are increasing, continued deployments aren't the leading cause: one-third of Soldiers who commit suicide have never been downrange.
Yet Philbrick maintains that the training the Army provides for its Soldiers is helping.
"People suffer these types of issues every single day," said Philbrick. "That's not unusual, and not unique to the Army. But when they understand that there is help available and they get it, the likelihood of that being a negative event is diminished in measurable ways."
For now, a second Army-wide stand down on suicide prevention isn't planned. The video will be dispersed to troops through their units, and is also available at www.preventsuicide.army.mil.