WASHINGTON, April 29, 2011 — Preventing suicide in the military is showing signs of progress, but breaking the social stigma attached to it remains a challenge, the Army vice chief of staff said at the Blue Star Families’ premiere showing of the “I Don’t Know What It’s Like,” public service announcements to help military families fight suicide.
“Making sure the people who need help are willing to take advantage of those programs and services is not something that can be directed from the upper echelons of command,” Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli told an audience of military families, senior military leaders, members of Congress, business and Hollywood celebrities here last night at the American Red Cross Great Hall of Service.
“In the military, we institute policies and [give] orders,” the general said. “But you can’t direct the elimination of this stigma.” Fighting the stigma, he said, can only be done by those who understand that the symptoms of depression and anxiety, which could lead to suicide, are real and not signs of weakness, and that seeking help is OK, Chiarelli said.
The nonprofit Blue Star Families launched the suicide prevention PSAs in support of military families, with help from several organizations, including The Creative Coalition, comprising members of the arts and entertainment community who take on issues of public importance.
Chiarelli recalled how a Blue Star Families member, Alison Buckholtz, gained attention last year from her opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times when she called on the Defense Department for an outreach program to tackle the growing problem of suicides in the military. The general credited Buckholtz for raising awareness of the suicide issue.
“The PSAs are the direct result of her call for a public outreach program that will inevitably save lives both inside the military and outside the military,” Chiarelli said. “[We’re] seeing a reduction in the number of suicides across our forces, including our reserve components,” he said. “Every suicide is one too many. We must continue, and double, our efforts and keep working to expand the accessibility of programs and services to better support those not living or working near a military installation.” Combating suicide requires total team support, the general said, now and into the future.
“That’s what these public service announcements are about,” Chiarelli said. “There are great support and care programs available, and today, doctors, therapists, behavioral health counselors and members of the clergy are willing to help those struggling with depression, anxiety and other conditions.”
However, professionals cannot help those who avoid seeking help because they feel embarrassed, ashamed or fear it will negatively impact their lives and careers, the general said. “There’s absolutely no reason for anyone to suffer in silence,” Chiarelli said. “A soldier who is hit and injured by an [improvised explosive device] would never go untreated, and there’s no difference.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)