Deployments and the stressors that come from long separations continue to take a serious toll on the Army’s Soldiers and their Families, and this fact is showing up in disturbingly high numbers of suicides and attempted suicides year after year.
To battle these high numbers, Army officials are working hard to remind Soldiers and Family members that they are not alone and the Army is indeed a Family — a Family where people take care of each other.
Essential to battling the high numbers of suicides is a strong suicide prevention program, one that communicates key suicide prevention messages.
According to the Army Suicide Awareness Guide for Leaders, these prevention messages include asking the question, “Are you thinking of killing yourself” and “help is available” through on- and off-post resources.
Knowing your Soldiers, civilians and Family members is also important.
Recognize risky behaviors and warning signs associated with suicide and don’t be afraid to talk openly about suicide potential, the guide recommends. Listen carefully. Be caring. Show concern. Encourage the person to get help and be willing to escort him or her. And make sure you do not remain the only one helping a person with suicidal thoughts. Immediately refer him or her to professional support and assistance.
Here at Fort Bragg and across the Army, additional help and assistance is available and includes several agencies.
Primary care providers at the battalion level, medical companies and the installation hospital or health clinics know where these helpers are and how to contact them.
The leadership and chain of command can also direct persons in need to the right agencies and personnel who can help them. Mental health professionals across the installation can advise and assist and unit ministry teams at battalion, brigade and installation level are always a good resource for support.
Lt. Col. Mackberth Williams, the deputy Fort Bragg Garrison chaplain, said chaplains are often first responders to Soldiers and Family members who find themselves in crisis. Williams said during these situations, chaplains will usually counsel the Soldier or Family member not to lose hope.
“The main message of all chaplains is that one need not lose hope,” Williams said. “Focus on your faith and spirituality because that higher power is ever present, as are friends, Family, loved ones, the church and fellow Soldiers, and hope need not be lost.”
Understanding that a fellow Soldier, loved one, friend or neighbor is the first line of defense in preventing suicide. Everyone in the Fort Bragg community must realize that any Soldier or Family member who mentions suicide or exhibits suicidal tendencies must be given the help they need, said Maj. Jose Vargas the action officer for the Fort Bragg Suicide Prevention Program.
“What we are trying to do is remind Soldiers, battle buddies and leaders — whether they are on the battlefield or off the battlefield — that they can lean on a fellow Soldier,” said Vargas. “As an Army Family, we are stronger together.
“Most people who attempt or complete suicide don’t really want to die — they just want their suffering to end,” said Vargas.
“Every suicidal threat must be taken seriously. Know the warning signs. Don’t be afraid to talk openly and directly, and seek professional help if needed. Understanding, trust and support are the key to suicide intervention,” said XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg Command Sgt. Maj. Isaia Vimoto.
“If a battle buddy, friend or Family member starts to lose interest in things they use to care about, if they make comments about being worthless or about tying up loose ends, or more importantly, if they reach out looking for help — be there for them,” Vimoto said.
“We are committed to every Soldier and our efforts are focused on prevention well before the individual chooses suicide as their only option,” said Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, the Army’s Surgeon General.
Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III ordered an Army-wide suicide “stand down,” scheduled for Sept. 27, as a way to empower leadership to prevent further loss of life due to suicide.
The stand down is meant to familiarize all members of the Army Family with the health promotion, risk reduction, suicide prevention and comprehensive Soldier and Family fitness resources available in the Army.
The stand down will also focus on how to improve the health and discipline of the force and reducing the stigma associated with seeking care for behavioral health issues.
The stand down was issued after Austin visited installations around the Army and listened to Soldier feedback and suggestions.
In addition to the stand down on Sept. 27, the Army joins the Nation in observing National Suicide Prevention Week Sept. 10 through 14 and World Suicide Prevention Day, Sept. 10. The Army will expand its observance with events occurring during the entire month of September, focusing efforts on total Army Family well being, resilience, stigma reduction and positive results achieved by getting involved and reaching out for help.
With all this, the month of September this year has been designated “Army Suicide Prevention Month.”
“Leaders across our Army recognize that the health of our Soldiers, Army civilians and Family members is a top priority. We remain committed to doing what is needed to care for our most precious asset — our people — thereby ensuring a healthy and resilient force for the future,” said Austin.