FORT DETRICK, Md. (Army News Service, March 12, 2008) - In an effort to counteract rising suicide rates and keep Soldiers and their Family members spiritually, emotionally and mentally fit, the Suicide Prevention Task Force process is being imported to some U.S. installations from Europe.

U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Medicine Europe representatives briefed military medical professionals on their SPTF efforts at installations across Europe during a presentation last summer at CHPPM's annual Force Health Protection Conference. Since then, CHPPM is replicating the process at Fort Lewis, Wash., and other, to-be-determined U.S. locations.

The CHPPM is the Army's public health organization. It supports Soldiers around the world with health education information and deploys medical and scientific staff to deliver health surveillance everywhere Soldiers go. On U.S. military installations, CHPPM provides environmental health engineering and health hazard assessments as well as injury and disease prevention programs.

The SPTF is not intended to replace the current Army G-1 Suicide Prevention Program, but to focus on prevention strategies. The strategies pull together existing installation resources that address personal issues such as mental health, relationships, finance-issues known to contribute to suicidal thinking.

"The Army already has a suicide intervention model established-that's not what we are focused on," said Kym Ocasio, chief of health promotion and wellness at CHPPM West, Fort Lewis, and one of the developers of the process. "As well, the Army already has a lot of great health and wellness programs. We don't think brand new ones need to be developed, but we need to standardize what we already have."

In addition to standardization, Ocasio and health promotion coordinators at CHPPM Europe wanted to change the focus from the act of suicide to the interventions that may stop people from committing suicide.

"We believe the SPTF needs to focus on the word 'prevention,' which is about more than reviewing suicide statistics. We look at things like dealing with depression and loneliness, stress management and the many factors that influence behaviors before a person considers suicide," said Ocasio. "The SPTF looks at what resources are available, how they are accessed, and how they are marketed and integrated within the community."

The goal is to make these resources well known, and to create synergy among them.

The idea for SPTF came from a late-1990's inspection, which found that while European installations had many good health and wellness programs, they were often stove-piped and unrelated to each other. For example, a Soldier or Family member who was stressed and drinking as a result, could find help for alcohol abuse, but might not know where to go to address the root of the problem: stress.

In response, health-promotion councils were developed, which included subject-matter experts on issues such as stress management, substance abuse and family counseling to collaborate and to help commanders make fact-based decisions. The councils were charged with identifying the indicators of patients who might need multiple types of help.

With the goal of preventing gaps and overlaps in services, Ocasio said, resource guides were published on garrison Web sites to increase Soldier and Family access to available information and services.

The process was further streamlined in Europe in the last couple years, she said, to address the new needs of an Army population dealing with wartime deployments and combat stress.

"Sometimes people need a little more support," said Maj. Kathi Hill, a nurse liaison between the medical services and the health promotion council in Giessen, Germany's prevention task force. "The Army has many programs. Soldiers are inundated, overwhelmed - especially when they're depressed or stressed."

Hill said the task force was able to help Soldiers and their Families by easily referring them to the services they needed without them getting lost in the system. The team she worked with was aligned with Family readiness groups and other community organizations, so they felt more comfortable asking for help, she said.

"One of the biggest benefits of the program is it de-stigmatized the issues related to care and access to care," Hill said. "I think it will be great to see it fielded [in the States]."

Although standardization of the Suicide Prevention Task Force process is in its infancy in the States, two garrisons will soon have health promotion coordinators, said Ocasio.

"We need to prove the model makes sense in CONUS as well as Europe," she said. "If we can approach things holistically-mentally, physically and spiritually-then we can create a more stable and better equipped Army all around."

(Sarah Maxwell works for the Fort Detrick, Md., Public Affairs Office.)