Army ramping up suicide prevention education

Fort Sill_A three-step program has been designed by the United States Army to create a better, stronger, and healthier Army, and to reduce the number of soldiers committing suicide.  In March, the Army created a suicide prevention task force as part of a month-long "Stand Down" to address the unusually high numbers of suicides among soldiers over the past few years.  It's currently in Phase II, and involves a leader overseeing interaction between active-duty soldiers, retirees, and their families.

Last year, reports indicated that the Army had the largest suicide rate on record - 140 soldiers.  This year, 48 soldiers already have taken their own lives, and if that rate continues, almost 225 Army soldiers will have committed suicide by the end of this year.

Soldiers are strong, courageous warriors who are trained never to show weakness, and always move as an "Army of One." - but they are human.  Fort Sill Chief of Mental Health Lieutenant Colonel Eric Leong says that even when surrounded by family, a soldier can feel very isolated.  "In a lot of cases when they start thinking about depression or suicide - it's a very lonely kind of illness," he said.  "It's lonely and they feel trapped."  Employee Assistance Program Coordinator Jay Khalifeh says the Army hopes to overcome the stigma associated with getting help.  "We want to let people know that it's okay," he said.  "It's a sign of health and strength to access mental health services when you need it.  We do that for our physical health with no questions."

Leong says although the signs of depression, or suicidal thoughts aren't obvious, they may be present.  "Usually the spouses will pick up the things first," he said.  "They'll see something like they're emotionally distant, they don't like to do fun things anymore.  In a lot of cases, they won't hang out with friends, they'll isolate themselves."  He says this training is unlike any other the Army has done before.  "We wanted to encourage a more light-hearted approach to the training - versus a serious and more dire approach to the training - because we believe people will learn best when they are involved."

Close to 95% of Fort Sill's population has received the suicide prevention training, and the post now is trying to reach every military veteran and his or her family in the Lawton-Fort Sill area.  Currently no research has been able to connect the increased suicide rate with the wars in the Middle East.  Some think combat stress may be a factor, but others don't believe combat stress is a factor.