USA — General Calls for Better Suicide Prevention Efforts

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The mil­i­tary must address the stress wear­ing down the force and work to end the stig­ma sur­round­ing men­tal health care to com­bat ris­ing sui­cide rates, the chair of the Depart­ment of Defense Task Force on the Pre­ven­tion of Sui­cide said today.

“Sui­cide pre­ven­tion is a huge chal­lenge in the mil­i­tary,” Army Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Philip Volpe said. “There’s stress on our fam­i­ly mem­bers and stress on our ser­vice­mem­bers. This is a unique time. Nowhere before in our his­to­ry did peo­ple have to deploy over and over again.”

Volpe stressed the need for bet­ter mil­i­tary sui­cide pre­ven­tion efforts and out­lined his task force’s rec­om­men­da­tions for doing so dur­ing the Tragedy Assis­tance Pro­gram for Sur­vivors Sui­cide Sur­vivor Sem­i­nar and Good Grief Camp here, which drew more than 200 fam­i­ly mem­bers from across the nation. The issue touched home for many. Near­ly all lost a mil­i­tary loved one to sui­cide, some as recent­ly as a week ago.

Sui­cide rates have near­ly dou­bled in the mil­i­tary in the past five years, Volpe not­ed. And the Army’s rates have exceed­ed the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion since 2005, with 606 sui­cides between 2005 and 2009.

The DOD’s con­gres­sion­al­ly man­dat­ed sui­cide pre­ven­tion task force spent the past year delv­ing into the military’s sui­cide pre­ven­tion pro­grams in an effort to improve them, Volpe said. The find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions were sub­mit­ted to Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates for review in August. Gates will then sub­mit the results to Con­gress by Nov. 24.

Among its find­ings, the task force not­ed a need to address the stres­sors of near­ly a decade of war, Volpe said, par­tic­u­lar­ly relat­ed to the high oper­a­tions tem­po. This applies not only to deployed ser­vice­mem­bers, but to ser­vice­mem­bers sup­port­ing oper­a­tions back home as well. A high oper­a­tions tem­po can pre­vent ser­vice­mem­bers from cre­at­ing the bonds they need to pull them through dif­fi­cult times, he explained. The gen­er­al cit­ed dwell time, or the time between deploy­ments, as an exam­ple.

Mil­i­tary lead­ers expend a good bit of ener­gy dis­cussing the need for more dwell time, the gen­er­al not­ed, but fail to talk about the qual­i­ty of that time, which ulti­mate­ly is more impor­tant than the length.

“Ser­vice­mem­bers deploy for a year, then come back and their sched­ule is filled with events,” he said. “They nev­er get recon­nect­ed again to fam­i­ly, to friends. They nev­er get a chance to live through some of their expe­ri­ences.

“We’re just going and going like an engine with­out any repair,” he added.

The task force also dis­cov­ered a bro­ken cri­sis-response sys­tem. “There’s a whole bunch of hot­lines, num­bers, but when some­one is in cri­sis, who do you call?” Volpe said. “And what response will you get?”

The task force found a sig­nif­i­cant vari­a­tion in response and lev­els of train­ing with­in these resources. Some hot­lines, he said, refer peo­ple to anoth­er hot­line or resource. As a result, the per­son in need gets lost in the process.

The task force rec­om­mends a 911 equiv­a­lent for sui­cide cri­sis, Volpe said. Peo­ple know what to expect when some­one has a heart attack, but not when there’s a sui­cide. The mil­i­tary needs one hot­line with high­ly trained peo­ple who can take appro­pri­ate action.

The task force spent con­sid­er­able time study­ing the stig­ma that pre­vents ser­vice­mem­bers from seek­ing help, the gen­er­al said. The task force found that mul­ti­ple ini­tia­tives are need­ed to com­bat it. One solu­tion is to devel­op anony­mous sources where ser­vice­mem­bers can seek help with­out fear of career reper­cus­sion. But lead­ers must be aware of the draw­backs to that solu­tion, the gen­er­al said.

When some­one remains anony­mous, infor­ma­tion isn’t shared with lead­ers, Volpe explained. They may see a servicemember’s per­for­mance declin­ing and try to take action with­out know­ing that the mem­ber is seek­ing behav­ioral health care.

“While we need to cre­ate anony­mous sources so peo­ple under stress get help, we also need to attack the stig­ma,” Volpe said. “The mes­sage needs to be: You can be the best war­rior in the world but you’re still a human being. And call­ing in for help is no dif­fer­ent than if you call in for help for oth­er rea­sons.

“It’s OK to seek assis­tance and assis­tance works,” he con­tin­ued. “Those are the things we have to focus on.”

Volpe also called for bet­ter train­ing for behav­ioral health providers and chap­lains. “Just because you have a degree on the wall does­n’t make you good at under­stand­ing sui­ci­dal behav­ior and ways to pre­vent sui­cide,” he said. “We real­ly need to boost [train­ing] up. There’s a lack of under­stand­ing of sui­ci­dal behav­ior in our health care sys­tem.”

A lack of train­ing also exists across the ser­vices, Volpe not­ed. The ser­vices are con­duct­ing train­ing, but it’s not as effec­tive or inclu­sive as it could be. Most­ly, sui­cide pre­ven­tion train­ing is con­duct­ed with Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tions annu­al­ly so ser­vice­mem­bers can mark the train­ing off a check­list. Volpe called that method inad­e­quate.

The gen­er­al called for skills-based train­ing, liken­ing it to weapons train­ing. The mil­i­tary would nev­er teach sol­diers how to fire a weapon by Pow­er­Point, he said, and the same applies to sui­cide pre­ven­tion. Train­ing needs to include prac­ti­cal lessons in under­stand­ing where to go for help and how to raise the issues of con­cern.

Volpe said there’s also a great need for fam­i­ly mem­ber train­ing, a com­ment met by enthu­si­as­tic applause from the audi­ence. Fam­i­ly mem­bers often say they knew some­thing was wrong with their loved one, but could­n’t pin­point the prob­lem. They did­n’t know where to go for help or if their actions would help or hin­der, he said.

Fam­i­ly mem­bers need train­ing on sui­cide signs and avenues of help, and this train­ing needs to encom­pass more than just the spouse, but the par­ents, sib­lings, oth­er fam­i­ly and friends as well.

“Fam­i­lies are usu­al­ly the first indi­ca­tors, first detec­tors of some­thing not being the same, not being right,” he said. “It makes sense for fam­i­lies be includ­ed in a com­pre­hen­sive sui­cide pre­ven­tion pro­gram.”

Volpe con­clud­ed by cit­ing a need for bet­ter sui­cide after care, or “postven­tion,” not just for fam­i­lies, but for ser­vice­mem­bers who have lost a bat­tle bud­dy. Loss puts all loved ones at risk for destruc­tive behav­iors, includ­ing sui­cide, he not­ed.

Sui­cide pre­ven­tion isn’t about iden­ti­fy­ing weak­ness­es but cre­at­ing strengths, Volpe said.

“We learned ear­ly on that we’re not only sav­ing the lives of sol­diers, sailors, air­men and Marines, but we’re mak­ing this a bet­ter, more ready mil­i­tary by address­ing sui­cide pre­ven­tion,” he said. “We’re strength­en­ing the force.”

Volpe also thanked the audi­ence for their input into the task force’s report at last year’s sur­vivor sem­i­nar. “What we learned there pro­vid­ed us a guid­ing light for the remain­der of our work,” he said.

Source:
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low GlobalDefence.net on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →