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Chicago Army Reserve command partners with community resources to prevent suicides

By Anthony L Taylor | 85th Support Command | Oct. 16, 2018

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. — “Due to the nature of the Army Reserve’s mission (and location), our Soldiers rely heavily on community resources,” said Tifini Steif, Victim Advocate, 85th Support Command Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention team. “With Soldiers spread throughout cities and states, it often ‘takes a village’ to help our Soldiers.”

The Army Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training program, that certifies Soldiers and staff members in skills that help prevent the immediate risk of suicide, is not a new program used by the Army, but the 85th Support Command’s suicide prevention program manager, Carmella Navarro, conducted an ASIST workshop, September 27-28, bringing more than 25 local community partners to offer a unique insight to suicide intervention.

“We reached out to other program managers (from Darien, Illinois; Wichita, Kansas; and Seattle, Washington) to coordinate this,” said Navarro. “We used our special programs team, here at the 85th (SPT CMD), to push it out to domestic violence shelters, high schools, hospitals, counselors, and I used my own resource list, as a counselor.”

The training offered local community caregivers, first responders, therapists and members of the community insight on how to have a conversation and intervene with someone who is thinking about suicide; the training forum also established a partnership with local community resources for Army Reserve Soldiers needing assistance.

“The assumption is that the active component has everything at its fingertips, and sometimes as a reserve component, (the community) feels like it’s the same thing, and it’s not,” said Navarro. “(The Army Reserve) is so spread out that it takes a lot of work to find a Soldier some help as a reserve Soldier.”

Navarro, who manages the suicide prevention program for all of the Chicago-based command’s Soldiers spread across the continental United States, additionally shared that as Soldiers, sometimes the focus is on “just fixing the problem and moving forward”, but time has to be set aside to just simply have a conversation with the Soldier.

“It’s really important for all of us to know how to have a conversation and listen, so that we can allow our Soldiers to feel connected to finding what is important to them, and that allows them to choose life and stay safe for now,” said Navarro.

According to the workshop instructors, the training is presented in a way that anyone can take and apply it in their own environment, without any technical training in this field.

“We want to use skills that are proven to be effective so any layperson can learn this,” said Kelli Pfau, Suicide Prevention Program Manager, 451st Expeditionary Sustainment Command, Wichita, Kansas, and licensed clinical psychotherapist. “As a clinician, nobody teaches us this. We only want to do work that is evidence-based, and this is evidence-based, the best I’ve ever seen. (It’s) the easiest to use and makes so much sense, but what’s most exciting is that anyone can learn it.”

Pfau added that the training provides participants with confidence, skills, permission and empowerment to assist someone who is thinking about suicide.

“When they see someone who is hurting, (caregivers) can check on how they’re doing,” said Pfau. “If it comes to the point that they have to ask if that person is suicidal, they’ll have the skills to help that person be safe for now, which is a third choice between life and death, just safe for now.”

Nisha Patel, who is a graduate student for social work and conducting her internship at Rolling Meadows high school, reached out to this training and insight, so that she could use it in any circumstance, for any age group.

“I am actually working with a lot of students right now and the idealization of suicide is very real,” said Patel. “For student suicide ideation, I think a lot of it comes from the family environment. Stress that we’re putting on the kids is a little more than they can handle at their age, so (we’re) giving them the coping skills of how we can handle the stress. And when they can’t, that’s where the immediate reaction is all black and white thinking. ‘I can’t do well in school, I’m going to kill myself.’ ‘I don’t have a boyfriend. I want to kill myself.’ So, (we’re) finding that middle ground for them. And this is where treatments like this can help to tell them that it’s not always black and white. This is what you can do to find that middle ground.”

Yosef Yitchokgoldbloom, a student in his junior year of high school, chose to attend the training so that he could be more of a resource for his classmates.

“There’s a lot of people in my school that have suicidal behaviors, and I want to help them out,” said Yitchokgoldbloom. “I currently just talk with (students), and try to help them out and give them numbers of people that can help them more. But I’d like to help them more, just myself, before I send them to those (resources), because I know younger people are much more hesitant to speak to adults.”

Yitchokgoldbloom shared that he found value in a structured approach to help guide his friends who are struggling and to help move them to the right direction.

“It’s nice to learn about the new techniques on how to help people, because I didn’t know that there was an actual process for helping people,” Yitchokgoldbloom said. “I thought that people just made it up as they went along, so it’ll be nice to not have to come up with things to tell people.”

Suicide exists as a problem regardless of age, gender, status or even military service, so a workshop goal was to provide unique training to the community on how to better prepare community resources in suicide intervention, and in turn, establish local resources for Army Reserve Soldiers living amongst those communities.

“We have to think outside of the box, because we don’t have the same assets that the active army has, so we have to rely on our community partners, in depth, to help people in crisis if they’re not on active duty status in the reserve,” said Jason Rogers, Suicide Prevention Program Manager, 104th Training Division, based out Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. “And what better way of helping our community partners of understanding what the reserve is going through than to bring them into the program, and get them into the same language that we speak for prevention.”

The training, which used the Pathway for Assisting Life model, laid out a very structured form, but when helping someone at risk, the caregiver has the ability to move backwards or forwards on the model to ensure the needs of the person is achieved with a goal of being safe for now.

“I’ve done a lot of crisis management and risk management training as a counselor,” said Kelly Fatten, therapist with Catholic Charities. “Most of your training as a mental health professional goes from recognizing the signs of suicide to going straight into safety planning and risk management, but you skip the middle part and you’re missing the motivation for why.”

One Soldier, assigned to the 85th Support Command, was amongst the attendees of community partners because he has felt the reality of suicide in his own family, and wanted to ensure that he had the skills to help anyone that may need it.

“I’ve had a lot of family suicides that probably could have been prevented if I had this training,” said Mickey Irby, assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 383rd Regiment, 4th Cavalry Brigade, 85th Support Command. “But I hope to take this training back to all of the Soldiers that I work with. If there’s one person that I can help, then this training has been beneficial.”

Pfau explained that people who want to kill themselves can only see death and they don’t have the ability to look at life right now because it is too painful, and the shift back to life from thinking about suicide is too huge of a shift, so caregivers just focus on being safe for now.

“Once we find that string of life, from listening to them, then life comes into them,” said Pfau. “We feel it together and make it as big as possible. And then move forward to a plan to be safe for now.”