FORT BRAGG, N.C. –
As Soldiers, we have come to expect that each month there will be a different focus for the Army. A different culture will be highlighted, a different program will take the spotlight, but Angela Dunston, Suicide Prevention Program Manager (SPPM) for the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) outlined that suicide prevention is a year round battle.
“We don’t wait until September, National Suicide Prevention Month, to bring awareness to this topic.” Dunston stated. “We keep it on the forefront in all aspects of our battle rhythms, our formations, because suicide prevention doesn’t prevent suicide alone.”
That’s not to say that Dunston doesn’t place high value on highlighting her program during the month of September.
“Suicide Prevention Month helps to bring awareness to a critical issue via multiple platforms. It can help Leaders refocus and keep the momentum going.”
The momentum that Dunston refers to comes from her belief that the majority of true prevention can be characterized in the letter ‘C.’
“I call it the Dunston 3C philosophy,” she said.
Dunston explains that care, concern, and compassion form the basis for a culture that relies on true connected communication to make a difference to the lives of the leaders, Soldiers, families, and DA civilians under command suicide prevention program. It’s a lot of alliteration, but it makes sense.
“Just having one ‘C’ will help change an undesirable culture,” Dunston explains. “If we all do our part, if we see something, we say something, the meaning behind that one ‘C’ can change the culture.”
She went on to expand that by adding a second ‘C,’ communication comes into the picture. Care, concern, or compassion alone are individual, but adding them together is where people begin to reach out, to communicate and to help a person who is struggling mentally, financially, or in other ways. That communication then becomes someone reaching back and reaching out to a chaplain, a battle buddy, a SPPM, to say “hey it’s me, or I know someone, how can we get some help?”
Dunston believes that by adding the third ‘C’ we are changing the course of a person’s crisis.
“If we as a team, employing our care, concern, and compassion, get that Soldier or family member the help that they need, we can take that person’s chaos and turn their crisis into courage – courage to get help and seek those resources that the Army and military has in place to help them recover and stay in the fight.”
A retired Soldier herself, Dunston began in the SPPM position in July, but had previously been involved with the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program and sees similarities in the work.
“There is a parallel in the programs as a percentage of victims who have gone through a sexual assault or who have been the victim of harassment become suicidal,” Dunston said. “I believe that suicide is 100% preventable if we keep people first.”
Dunston credits her belief in divine purpose for her success in helping people during her time both with the SHARP program and as the SPPM for USACAPOC(A).
“I believe that I am able to continue in my purpose to help people choose life,” she explained. “I am a strong believer that there is greatness in everyone simply by virtue of the air that we breathe.”
With that purpose, Dunston is committed to making sure that her program educates and empower Soldiers, Civilians and Family Members through prevention efforts from all sources. She has been working tirelessly with the staff and public affairs office to ensure that resource sharing is happening through emails and social media posts, and she is heavily invested in training that takes place not just on battle assembly weekends, or in the month of September, but throughout the year, every day.
“As a Soldier myself, I didn’t realize these resources existed, so that’s the information that’s coming down,” she explained. “We are making as wide a dissemination as possible, and it’s rewarding because you feel like getting that information out there, it’s going to help those who are most important - the Soldiers.”
With the focus on suicide prevention in September, Dunston was able to emphasize training and that allowed for an increase in interested individuals wanting to be the suicide prevention liaison for their units, as well as increasing overall training numbers.
The numbers are important, but Dunston puts more stock in ensuring that Soldiers and leaders are taking the necessary help-seeking steps on how to maintain and sustain a healthy, mental, physical, professional, and personal work/life balance. Her emphasis is ensuring the necessary information, guidance, and follow-up is made available to all, and that hopefully, the training and consistent caring environment will change a life heading for a downward spiral and ultimately save lives.
It comes back around to a year-long focus, claims Dunston.
“The Suicide Prevention Offic, can't do it alone,” she stated emphatically. “Collaboration and partnerships are essential to meeting the needs of Soldiers and their families. Prevention efforts have to be, and will be, an ongoing priority, 365 days of the year. We owe it to each other, to Ask, Care, and Escort!”