Chain Teaching to Follow Army ‘Stand Down’ for Suicide Prevention

U.S. Army

March 6, 2009 – An Army-wide “stand down” for suicide-prevention training continues through March 15 and it will be followed by chain teaching that must be completed by July 15.

The centerpiece of the stand-down training is an interactive video called “Beyond the Front” that Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli said he spent five hours with on a recent Sunday.

During a Blogger’s Roundtable Thursday on suicide prevention, Chiarelli said the interactive video is “some of the best facilitation for training that I’ve seen in 36 years in the Army.” He said the purpose of the video is to reduce the stigma of seeking help, to teach Soldiers to recognize the signs of suicide and how to provide help to a battle buddy.

Commands are scheduling this stand-down training with the video in 2- to 4-hour blocks during a 30-day window that began Feb. 15. Soldiers watch the interactive video in small groups and make decisions on how to react to the vignettes. Their decisions determine the outcome of the vignettes and ultimately whether the Soldier on the video lives or dies.

It’s important for all Soldiers – especially NCOs and junior officers — to be able to offer capable intervention to those at risk, Chiarelli said.

“Unfortunately suicide is touching every segment of our force — Active, Reserve and National Guard; officer and enlisted; deployed and non-deployed, and yet-to-be-deployed,” Chiarelli said.

Last fiscal year, 138 Soldiers committed suicide, Chiarelli said, and five additional cases are still pending confirmation. In January, 12 Soldiers committed suicide with another 12 cases still pending. In February, two Soldiers committed suicide and another 16 cases are still pending confirmation.

“As a Soldier and a leader, I’m deeply saddened every time a Soldier loses his or her life,” Chiarelli said, “but it’s especially troubling when a Soldier commits suicide.”

About a third of those Soldiers were deployed, Chiarelli said. Another third had returned from a deployment, and the last third had never been deployed.

“The rational person might think, the more deployments, the more likely you are to commit suicide,” Chiarelli said. “But we saw just the opposite.”

He explained that “a certain resiliency” seems to grow in Soldiers that have completed multiple deployments.

Chiarelli announced at the roundtable that a new Suicide Prevention Task Force has been created and will be headed by Brig. Gen. Colleen L. McGuire. The task force will look across multiple disciplines – from personnel to medical – to try and discern the root causes of suicide and synchronize solutions.

There’s no single solution to the problem, Chiarelli said, characterizing it as “very, very complicated.”

About half of the Soldiers who committed suicide last year had sought treatment from mental-healthcare providers, Chiarelli said. Yet they still committed suicide.

Only 5.4 percent of the suicide victims had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, said Col. Elspeth C. Ritchie, a psychiatrist who serves as director of Strategic Communications for the Army Medical Department. She said 17 percent had problems with substance abuse.

About 60 percent of those who committed suicide had relationship problems, said Col. Thomas Languirand of Army G-1. Some also had compounded legal problems, financial problems, or work problems, the panel explained.

On Wednesday, Chiarelli participated in a two-hour video teleconference with commanders across the Army whose units had been affected by suicides. Commanders in Iraq, Korea and other locations shared feedback. He said the video teleconference will be followed by a written report.

Also on Wednesday, Chiarelli spoke to more than 100 chaplains from across the Army gathered for a suicide-prevention “summit” meeting.

Many of the chaplains came from brigade level and lower and deal with Soldier problems on a daily basis, said Col. Dave Reese, director of ministry initiatives for the Army’s Chief of Chaplains Office, and a planner of the summit.

Reese said the chaplains broke into four groups to discuss suicide prevention across four domains: Life skills training, Intervention and crises, Fostering hope, and Engaging grief and recovery. Eight professionals with Lean Six Sigma black belts (in business transformation) helped facilitate the group discussions on programs such as the “Strong Bonds” retreat for married couples and helped chaplains develop some new ideas. The initiatives will eventually comprise what Reese termed a renewed “holistic approach” to suicide prevention for chaplains.

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