Better Mental Fitness Will Help Prevent Suicide, Sutton Says
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2010 – Preventing suicide is more than simply recognizing the signs, it involves building strong community and individual support before the idea ever sets in, the Army's top psychiatrist and director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury said here today.
“[Suicide prevention] involves building and developing a tool kit for life,” Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Loree K. Sutton said in her opening remarks at the 2010 departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs Suicide Prevention Conference.
The weeklong conference is geared toward increasing collaboration between the military services and VA by raising awareness and sharing best practices in prevention.
The “tool kit for life” Sutton describes includes a model of total fitness that addresses physical, emotional and spiritual needs, a sort of total level that the Defense Department and VA need to promote among their communities. It will be their best efforts in tackling the growing rate of suicide among veterans and military members, she said.
Sutton said healthy habits such as getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods and feeling connected to something are important factors in keeping mentally fit.
She asked the audience to ponder a few questions: “Are we putting the kinds of fuel into our bodies that help our brains, our bodies, our souls [and] our spirit perform at maximum effectiveness and efficiency? Do each of us here to do have at least two individuals that if we were to reach that hour of darkness, the moment of truth, that we could call a friend and gain that human-to-human, that heart-to-heart connection?
Do we belong to a team? Do we have faith that leads us to a commitment that is greater than any of us as individuals?”
Sutton explained that if everyone – troops, leaders and family members – knew the answers to those questions about their family and fellow servicemembers, “perhaps we would be a step further away from the terminal signs of hopelessness and despair.”
Both departments recognize that psychological wounds are as dangerous as physical injuries, she said. They also understand that emotional distress is not limited to results of combat on the battlefield.
For that reason, the general said suicide prevention is a public health challenge. She cited a need to build resiliency among the individuals in society and in the military. Prevention shouldn’t be left on the shoulders of health care providers, but rather techniques should be taught by them in all levels of the community.
“Preventing suicide is far too important and too enormous of a challenge to be left to the docs,” she said. “We’re all in this together.”
Both departments can revolutionize psychological health care through visionary leadership and a change in culture in which people come forward with their issues as well as recognize symptoms in others, she said.
Both departments recognize that suicide prevention is a growing problem with no easy solution. Although treatment works, the goal of those attending the conference should be to instill good life practices in their units and communities, she said, so treatment may become a last resort.
“We are on a journey,” the general said. “We know that stigma can kill, hugs can heal, words can work, treatment can save and help is hope. We can tool up here this week, go home and apply these lessons and ask ourselves every day: Is what my team and I are doing today is action? Is our effort worthy of the service and sacrifice of those who we are so privileged to serve?
“We’re not content with today’s best,” she continued. “We must make today’s best better.”
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