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American Forces Press Service

Army Continues Focus on Suicide Prevention

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2009 – The Army is making progress in its efforts to prevent suicides despite the increasing number of reports, an Army spokeswoman said in an interview with American Forces Press Service today.

So far this year, 117 suicides have been reported among active-duty soldiers, 14 more than what was reported through September in 2008. Of those, 81 are confirmed suicides and 36 are still under investigation, according to a statement released today by the Army.

Also, 35 reserve-component soldier suicides were reported with 25 pending investigation, the report said.

For the month of September, the Army reported one confirmed suicide and six under investigation on the active-duty side with another seven among the reserve force.

The Army’s 2008 suicide report tallied 143 for the year, which was an all-time high since the department began recording suicide statistics in 1980. The 2008 statistics also reflected an increase for the fourth consecutive year.

Suicides rates this year are on pace to pass the 2008 numbers, but Army officials aren’t considering that a failure. They’re basing their progress on the intervention and prevention stories they’re hearing from the field, the spokeswoman said.

“You never know how many you save, but we’re getting stories from the field about a lot more people seeking help and a lot more interventions, which means that awareness is up [and] people understand,” she said. “We have to think that some of those increased interventions we’re hearing about have made a difference.”

Army officials acknowledged a problem with suicides in January, and in March launched a departmentwide initiative to counter it. More than 40 of this year’s suicides occurred in January and February, which account for 35 percent. Officials believe that without the added suicide awareness training, that rate may be more.

“The fact that leadership is focused on [suicide prevention], people are focused on it, people are seeking help [and] we’re seeing a lot more intervention; those things to us represent positive signs that those things are making a difference,” the spokeswoman said.

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli told reporters in a roundtable discussion here in January that frequent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan factored into the growing rate of suicide.

The general cited the importance of direct supervisors stepping in and noticing the signs when someone is suicidal.

Chiarelli was not available for comments today, but in a statement released last month, he said, “We recognize that the crucial link in preventing suicides is caring, concerned and decisive small-unit leadership. There will never be a substitute for noncommissioned officers who know their soldiers, know when a soldier is suffering, and have the moral courage to act and get that soldier the help that they need.”

The Army implemented several programs to improve prevention efforts, following the publishing of its Army Campaign Plan for Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention in April.

The Army also has established a mandatory stand-down day for units to raise awareness, a five-year partnership with the National Institute of Mental Health to increase national awareness and a Suicide Prevention Task Force and Council to oversee the Army’s progress.

“Whether it’s additional resources, improved training or ensuring those in our Army community can readily identify the warning signs of suicidal behavior, all our efforts often come down to one soldier caring enough about another soldier to step in when they see something wrong,” Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire, director of the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force, said in the statement released today.

The Army also has launched an effort to help soldiers understand that being depressed and having suicidal thoughts isn’t something they should be ashamed of, McGuire said.

“Soldiers will be willing to [seek help] if they know help is available, if they believe there is no stigma attached to asking for that help and if they are certain that Army leaders remain absolutely committed to the resiliency of our entire Army family,” she said.

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