By Mr. Kevin Stabinsky (IMCOM)September 17, 2010
In 2009, the number of active duty Soldier suicides increased by 20 to 160, and the number of Reserve and National Guard suicides rose by 25 to 82.
To combat this rise of suicides, the Army has mounted an aggressive campaign, releasing anti-suicides videos like "Shoulder to Shoulder," arming Soldiers with ACE (Ask, Care, Escort) cards that teach how to deal with someone feeling suicidal, and encouraging and enforcing suicide awareness training.
In keeping with Army standards, Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem personnel are conducting training throughout September, Suicide Prevention Month, and doing as much as possible to educate the populace on handling this epidemic, said Eric Powell, U.S. Army Garrison (USAG) Wellness Center prevention education coordinator and assistant suicide prevention coordinator.
"We want to take advantage of every opportunity we have to educate," Powell said. "We continue to do all we can to reduce the number of suicides and attempts."
Examples of such educational opportunities can be seen in static displays around the installations including handouts, bracelets, lapel pins, ACE cards and pocket sliders with information on dealing with suicidal individuals.
Powell said various posters produced by the Army G-1 have been placed in high-visibility areas to increase awareness, and messages have been placed on electronic monitors in the Lawrence Joel Army Health Clinic and U.S. Army Reserve Command headquarters.
Powell said the increase in promoting suicide awareness is a big change from his time in the Army. A retired master sergeant, he said one of the biggest differences in how the Army deals with suicide is in changing the stigma of personnel asking for help.
"There are some things people can't just suck up," Powell said. "The Army is showing Soldiers it takes a lot of strength to acknowledge you need help."
Help is available in many ways, Powell and Chap. (Capt.) Fred Wendell, USAG Catholic chaplain, said.
Some organizations available to Soldiers include the chaplaincy, mental health counsel services and Army Community Service.
The Wellness Center also helps indirectly through its substance abuse programs.
"Statistics show substance abuse and alcohol factors in 50 percent of suicides," Powell said.
Powell also said there is generally not one thing to point a finger at as the main cause of suicides, saying factors include financial difficulties, divorce, Family problems and work situations.
"That is the challenge," Powell said. "There's no one thing, there aren't always signs and anyone and everyone is susceptible."
Statistics released by the G-1 Human Resources Policy Directorate support Powell's analysis.
Suicides have been reported in all enlisted ranks, in officer ranks through lieutenant colonel and in the warrant officer ranks through chief warrant officer 4.
Ages range from 17 to 58 and include married, single, divorced and widowed Soldiers, as well as Soldiers who have never deployed.
Statistics also show that more men - 156 active duty and 77 in the Reserve and National Guard - committed suicide compared to women - four active duty and five Reserve and National Guard.
Additionally, whites - 77.7 percent of active duty and 84.1 percent of Reserve and National Guard suicides - make up a majority of those committing suicide.
Just as suicide affects all ranks, races and sexes, each of these groups can be a combatant against suicide.
One source of help for Soldiers is each other, Wendell said.
"We want to make people aware of one another," he said, adding that doing so could help identify problems. "We can help individual persons cope so that even the thought of suicide doesn't happen."
Doing so is important, Wendell said, because "People are important and every person matters," adding he avoids thinking of reported suicides as merely numbers, but instead as actual people.
If someone is considering suicide or feels he or she knows someone thinking of committing suicide, he or she should seek help from someone such as their commander or chaplain, Powell said, adding the main thing is to talk to someone. Wendell said in his role as a counselor, he has noticed that when people come to talk to him, they often feel overwhelmed and just want a way out.
"In my mind, suicide is the greatest act of despair," Wendell said. "I want people to see there is always a way out."
Wendell said since no one person knows everything about the future, suicide is a poor way to escape an issue that may be solvable in another way.
In his counseling, Wendell said people he has helped have eventually come around to see how things could be different.
However, suicide is ultimately an individual decision, Wendell said. For those who know someone who has committed suicide, Powell said there are options available to help them through their grief. "A suicide survivor is the one left behind after a suicide," he said. "Each and every suicide affects many other people in many ways."
Blame, guilt, shock, denial, loneliness and sorrow are all common ways people are affected, Powell said.
Support groups and grief counseling is available at the Wellness Center. "We try to share with suicide survivors that it is not their fault," Powell said.
Although programs are available, they are programs that hopefully will never have to be used, Wendell said.
"One suicide is too much," said Wendell.
Dos and don'ts of dealing with suicidal individuals
Aca,!Ac Do take suicial comments seriously
Aca,!Ac Do respond to suicidal statements
Aca,!Ac Do ask how the person is planning on killing themselves
Aca,!Ac Do encourage the person to seek professional help
Aca,!Ac Do offer to take the person to get help
Aca,!Ac Do get rid of any lethal means of committing suicide
Aca,!Ac Don't act shocked or paniced
Aca,!Ac Don't intervene alone if possible Resources available to individuals
Aca,!Ac 1-800 SUICIDE
Aca,!Ac 1-800 273 TALK