By Lt. Col. Blain S. Walker, Ph.D., U.S. Army Public Health CommandSeptember 1, 2011
Ask, Care, Escort, or ACE, training is the Army-approved suicide prevention and awareness training model for all Soldiers, leaders and Army civilians. It is also available to family members. Soldiers have been completing ACE suicide awareness training on an annual basis for several years now. These Soldiers can probably tell you all of the warning signs and risk factors of suicide from memory, but is that awareness enough?
Preventing suicide is more than just knowing what puts Soldiers at risk for taking their life, it is all about ACE.
Ask is the most difficult challenge when facing someone you think may be suicidal. People fear asking the question "Are you thinking of killing yourself?" for several reasons. First, they may be afraid of offending their friend. In reality, your friend is more likely to be grateful that you care enough about them to ask the question and that you are aware of the pain they are going through. By asking the question, you are letting them know that they have a friend who is listening to them. A second reason we may not ask the question is that it is hard for us to believe someone we know or care about is considering taking that final step. Suicide is something that always happens to someone else. A third reason it is difficult to ask someone if they are suicidal is what if the answer is yes? What do you do? This fear can be overcome by familiarizing yourself with the resources available. Where is the nearest chaplain, behavioral health provider or emergency room? Knowing the answers to these questions will not only help alleviate the fear of getting a yes answer, but will help with the "escort" step in the ACE model.
Caring is the key to the whole ACE model. In fact, the model should be CAE, but that acronym doesn't make any sense and is not as easy to remember. When you care about someone you are likely to listen to them when they are experiencing emotional or physical pain. You are more likely to be concerned about their welfare and see that they get through whatever their trial may be. When you care about someone you think may be suicidal, it becomes much easier to ask the question, are you thinking of killing yourself? When you care about someone, you are more likely to find out what and where the local resources are and escort your friend to get the help he needs. It is not uncommon for individuals who are suicidal to feel alone, that no one cares whether they live or die. By actively listening and engaging with a friend you are showing that you care. That, in and of itself, may be enough to help prevent a suicide.
Escorting is the easiest step in the ACE model. At least it is easy when you already know what and where your resources are located. Take the time to find out where your local chaplain and behavioral health providers are. Find out where the nearest military treatment facility or emergency room is located. When you ask if someone is suicidal and they say yes, care enough to escort them to the nearest resource where they can get help.
For more information on suicide prevention:
Tri-Signed Army Proclamation Announcing Suicide Prevention Observance, http://www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/suicide/docs/ProclamationSept2011.pdf
Suicide Awareness video aimed at first line supervisors, http://www.army.mil/article/63934/Suicide_awareness_video_aimed_at_first_line_supervisors
Trainer Facilitation Guide, Shoulder to Shoulder: Finding Strength and Hope Together, http://www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/suicide/docs/S2S-2011FacilitationGuide.pdf
Trainer Presentation, Shoulder to Shoulder: Finding Strength and Hope Together, http://www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/suicide/docs/S2S-2011Training.ppt