In March 2009, in response to a growing number of Army suicides, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army released the Army Campaign Plan for Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention (ACPHP), and chartered the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force (ASPTF) and the Army Suicide Prevention Council (ASPC). Since that time, the Army has invested tremendous effort in investigating the causes of suicide within its ranks and in implementing policies and programs whose sole purpose is to promote resilience, prevent suicides, and enhance the readiness of the Force. The challenge of suicide remains a deep concern of the Army and our Nation as a whole.
Suicide is one of the leading cause of death among Veterans and Soldiers within our ranks. However, suicide is preventable. Soldiers who are contemplating suicide frequently give warning signs of their distress. Leaders, peer Soldiers and family members are in a key position to pick up on these signs and get help. Most important is to never take these warning signs lightly or promise to keep them secret. When all Soldiers in the unit are committed to making suicide prevention a priority—and are empowered to take the correct actions—we can help youth before they engage in behavior with irreversible consequences. Here are my (and the Army’s) Top 5 Suicide Awareness Tips for Army Leaders.
This may seems obvious but one key to suicide prevent it to be aware of the warning signs. People who are considering suicide often show signs of depression, anxiety, or some form of crisis in their overall self-esteem. Specific signs include:
- Appearing sad or depressed most of the time, deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating – that doesn’t go away or that continues to get worse.
- Feeling anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep, or sleeping all the time.
- Neglecting personal welfare; deteriorating physical appearance. Withdrawing from friends, family, and society.
- Loss of interest in hobbies, work, school, or other things one used to care about.
- Frequent and dramatic mood changes.
- Expressing feelings of excessive guilt or shame.
- Feelings of failure or decreased performance.
Being aware and educated about the warning signs displayed by Soldiers who are thinking about suicide is the most critical and important aspect of suicide prevention.
My second tip would be to know what resources you have available to you and to educate your Soldiers. As a Leader, the buck stops with you but chances are that your Soldiers are better acquainted outside of drill than you are to them. Educate every single Soldier about the resources available and who to contact if they even think that another Soldier is thinking about suicide or displaying warning signs. For example, the PAARNG has specific liaison representatives on either side of the state on 24/7 call for suicide crisis intervention. Additionally, our Chaplin is available around the clock as well. Soldiers need to know who to call because chances are they are going to be the ones seeing the warning signs than you will be.
Units who want to prevent suicide within their ranks take time to conduct resiliency training. The presence of resiliency factors and resilient thinking can lessen the potential of risk factors that lead to suicidal ideation and behaviors. Such resiliency resources could include:
- Unit support and cohesion, including good communication.
- Peer Soldier support and close networks.
- Unit and family connectedness.
- Cultural or religious beliefs that discourage suicide and promote healthy living.
- Adaptive coping and problem-solving skills, including conflict-resolution.
- General life satisfaction, good self-esteem, sense of purpose.
- Easy access to effective medical and mental health resources.
The Army’s Ask, Care, Escort or ACE suicide prevention program is recognized throughout many mental health and medical organizations as one the best intervention practice. ACE is simply step-by-step instructions to your leaders and Soldiers on what to do if they discover someone to be suicidal. Make sure to have plenty of ACE resources in your Unit and throughout your leadership. ACE cards are a great, simple tool that helps Soldiers, not only know what to do if they encounter a suicidal Soldier, but also provides those looking for help a simple way of letting someone know.
Lastly, it is important to know the common misconceptions about suicide and how to separate what you know (from training, etc.) from what you think you know. For example:
- FALSE: People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.
Almost everyone who commits or attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore suicide threats. Statements like “you’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” “I can’t see any way out,” — no matter how casually or jokingly said may indicate serious suicidal feelings.
- FALSE: Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy.
Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. They must be upset, grief-stricken, depressed or despairing, but extreme distress and emotional pain are not necessarily signs of mental illness.
- FALSE: If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop them.
Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, wavering until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to die. Most suicidal people do not want death; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.
- FALSE: People who commit suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help.
Studies of suicide victims have shown that more than half had sought medical help in the six months prior to their deaths.
- FALSE: Talking about suicide may give someone the idea.
You don’t give a suicidal person morbid ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true — bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.
The bottom line is to educate yourself about Suicide Awareness and know what resources are available to you and your Soldiers. Most suicides can be prevented if everyone keeps an open eye and ear and looks out for their buddies.
What are your thoughts? What do you think are the best suicide awareness tips for Army leaders? Leave a comment and let us know.