by Erinn Burgess
U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz
September is Suicide Prevention Month, and U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz leaders ask community members to pay a little extra attention to their friends, family members, coworkers and battle buddies.
“In the military, we’re family. We have to take care of each other,” USAG RP Command Sgt. Maj. Brett Waterhouse said. “Everybody has a state of normal, so when people you know don’t seem quite right, check on them — it’s really important. Losing one Soldier or family member to suicide is too many. Please think about what you can do to prevent suicide. Intervene.”
USAG RP Suicide Prevention Program Manager John Wrenchey said it’s important to pause once in a while and say, “What is my role or responsibility for suicide prevention?”
Wrenchey said one thing people can do is keep ‘ACE’ in mind, which stands for Ask, Care and Escort. ACE encourages asking a coworker, family member or friend whether he or she is suicidal, caring for the person and escorting him or her to a source of professional help if needed.
“The hard part about suicide prevention is that every person’s avenue of getting to the point of thinking about suicide is different — there’s no clear-cut ‘if you see this, they’re thinking about suicide’ indicator,” Wrenchey said. “That’s why it helps to know the person, because if something feels off in your gut — maybe something is different about your friend, or they’re saying or doing things that aren’t typical — you can reach out and ask what’s going on. It’s important to ask.”
According to unit risk inventories conducted by the garrison’s Army Substance Abuse Program, seven to eight percent of Soldiers from units based in Kaiserslautern or Baumholder indicated on anonymous surveys that they have had some form of suicidal thoughts or behavior within the last year.
“If you think about that, that’s like going to the commissary and walking by 13 Soldiers — statistically, one of them is struggling with thoughts of suicide, or has in the last year,” Wrenchey explained.
As far as the rest of the community — family members, Department of the Army civilians, retirees — it’s reasonable to expect the percentage to be as much or greater, Wrenchey said.
The ASAP utilizes unit risk inventories to look at what factors often go along with thoughts of suicide. Commonly correlated with suicidal thoughts or behaviors are anger issues, loneliness issues, lack of trust in leadership, legal issues and abuse, Wrenchey said.
Based on the unit risk inventories, the SPP is able to put together Ready and Resilient ‘Be There’ workshops tailored to specific issues a unit is facing — thereby addressing stressors in people’s lives that could potentially lead to suicidal ideation.
Another way the SPP works to prevent suicide is by training members of the community in suicide intervention skills. The two-day ASIST workshop gives participants knowledge about suicide, skills to reach out and confidence to help save a life. A list of upcoming ASIST workshops may be found on the garrison website at home.army.mil/rheinland-pfalz/index.php/asap.
Wrenchey reiterated that simply checking on others is the most important thing to do.
“People do care, they just get caught up in their own lives and get busy. But if they knew that somebody was truly thinking about suicide, they would be there for them. It’s just a matter of getting to that point of awareness,” he said.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, contact your chain of command, a chaplain, or call the Military Crisis Line at 00800-1273-8255 or DSN 118.