ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. –
“The latest information that we have is that the suicide rate is going down,” said Stacey Feig, Psychological Health Program director at the Office of the Chief, Army Reserve. “That’s great news. However, the rate of suicidal ideation is still high, which means that we still have a lot of Soldiers who are hurting and who need some assistance in the immediate and in the long term, to be healthy and well as possible.”
The 85th U. S. Army Reserve Support Command suicide prevention program team conducted a ’Stand For Life’ week-long training event, at the command headquarters, to train and prepare their suicide prevention program liaisons, from the command’s subordinate battalions spread across 25 states in the continental U.S., on how to train on suicide prevention.
According to Carmella Navarro, Suicide Prevention Program Manager, 85th U.S. Army Reserve Support Command, the training event provided liaisons the opportunity to develop connections at the unit level and these connections will provide SPPLs with visibility, accountability, dialog and the support needed to break stigma and identify authentic methods to successfully escort a Soldier to safety.
“Suicide Program Prevention Liaisons participated in fine tuning their presentation skills and sharpened their knowledge regarding matters of sustaining readiness and resilience through risk reduction practices,” said Navarro. “These efforts will, in turn, reduce the risk of suicidal ideations, attempts and completed suicides within the U.S. Army Reserve.”
Navarro shared that this training effort was not just her but a widely-organized team effort with other Command SPPMs in the U.S. Army Reserve to include the 104th Training Division, 4th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), 76th U.S. Army Reserve Operational Response Command and the behavioral health team at the Office of the Chief, Army Reserve. Also unique to Army training was the video production team, from the 104th TD, that Navarro incorporated into the training event. Throughout the training, camera crews moved through the exercise capturing the different aspects of materials taught, learned and exercised.
“Our intent was to memorialize, in video, what is happening here,” said Jason Rogers, Suicide Prevention Program Manager, 104th Training Division. “We have a lot of people who are coming together who really want to be here, and it’s easy to have that high emotional energy on day one and be in the moment. And as we go through it, they’re getting excited and ready to save lives, but we want to create a video package that we can send back out to the participants, in some number of weeks, as a reminder of what they went through and reinvigorate them. As people come off of that ‘mountaintop experience’ and life hits them and cynicism hits them and apathy hits them, we want to encourage them so that they remember why they came to this course.”
Rogers additionally added that the video crew filming and media interview sessions were all a surprise to the participants, prior to the training, and that it was an attempt to help remove anxiety from the participants when they would eventually be teaching their own courses.
“They (participants) don’t like the camera in their face but it is making them confront anxiety and help them get over it,” said Rogers. “The common lay person does not know how to talk about suicide; it’s not easy to talk about. So the end goal is to put that camera in their face and help them get over that anxiety of what other people think and dive into the deep end of the pool.”
Additionally on the training team were group leaders, an operations sections and table facilitators for each table of participants. Ariesa Evans, assigned to the 3rd battalion, 338 Regiment, 85th USARSC, was the lead facilitator for the training event. Across the training, participants discussed interventions and how to come up with a safe plan, how to recognize awareness signs, warning signs, red flags and what protective factors are, and how to obtain resources to the individual with suicidal ideations.
Evans shared that her goal was that the participants can leave with the knowledge and skill set to return to their units, and be able to teach this material with understanding on what to look for and how to get those resources to individuals in need because she knows first hand what it means to lose someone to suicide.
“I’ve lost some Soldiers (to suicide),” said Evans. “When I first took an (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) class, that is why I was there. I was a brand new E5 (sergeant) — And I didn’t have these tools. I didn’t know what the warning signs were. I didn’t know my E4 (Specialist) had suicidal ideations. I didn’t even know what suicidal ideations were. — I didn’t even realize that he had given away so much of his stuff and those were some of the warning signs that I should have seen but I had no idea.”
Sgt. 1st Class Hernandez Hazael, assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 338th Regiment, 85th USARSC, was the operations lead for the training and a survivor of suicide who shared his story in a video production during the training.
“It is a passion for me to prevent suicides and I feel that as I’m getting ready to retire, I want to be able to pass on what we’ve created here in the last three years for the future generations to stop suicides,” said Hazel. Every life is valuable, whether military or civilian, and by us understanding what suicide is and how suicide works, we can prevent future suicides just by being there and identifying risk factors and warning signs, and doing interventions and saving someone from that black hole and giving them a second chance at life, like I had.”
In hearing various stories from trainers or event participants, it was clear that many had a story about how suicide had impacted them.
“A couple of years ago I did the ASIST training when the unit was looking for trainers. I didn’t know much about it and lost a friend to suicide,” said Capt. Raj Cherian, an observer coach/ trainer assigned to the 1st Battalion, 309th Regiment, 85th USARSC and training class participant. “Learning and recognizing the different warning signs really affected me when my friend passed away. That is why I got involved and it’s been a great experience since then. And if I could save someone else from doing what my friend did, it’s a win.”
Cherian added that it comes down to continuously learning and listening when it comes to helping someone in struggling with suicide.
“We as Soldiers, we as people need to take care of each other and listen to each other,” said Cherian. “A lot of the course is about asking those open-ended questions and a lot of the time you realize that people just want to be heard. A lot of skills we learn in this course, regarding suicide, is about active listening and caring. So what I take away is that you can always work on this and everyone can always work on this and we can share this information that we’re learning with others.”
Hazael shared a final thought on his experience with suicides.
“In my experience dealing with suicide is the military has a stigma that we are strong and by us being strong, we don’t want to look for help because we don’t want to appear weak,” said Hazael. “However, by us training our ranks and showing them that there’s not a stigma, we can put our message across and disseminate it at the lowest level.”