10/23/2017 | By Mr. Jason Rogers 104th Training Division (LT) SPPM
This past summer, Madalyn Parker gained notoriety when she tweeted an email from her boss supporting Parker’s decision to focus on her mental health. In it, Ben Congleton, her company’s Chief Executive Officer said “You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.” Tens of thousands of people retweeted her story in support and the resulting conversations reached all the way into America’s executive board rooms.
Why does one woman’s personal courage resonate so deeply with society? There has been an outpouring of support and similar stories of hope in response to Parker’s tweet. In most cases however, a fear of marginalization or harassment from co-workers and supervisors emerged as a common factor, although all agreed this attitude is changing.
The Army Reserve leads this cultural shift and recognizes that mental health is aligned with readiness and building cohesive units. Suicide awareness training provided annually serves to provide information for recognition of warning signs and intervention techniques. At all levels, personnel are tasked with creating an environment that reduces the stigma associated with seeking help for behavioral health issues.
Many have personally experienced or know of someone who has experienced a loss from suicide. The Department of Defense reported that 3,072 Soldiers died from suicide in the past 13 years, while in comparison, there were 2,346 U.S. Military casualties during Operation Enduring Freedom.
In 2015, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
Parker’s message is a reminder that a strong and supportive network is the best way to prevent a suicide. Now is the time for intrusive engagement with one another, with compassionate and positive support. Through constant vigilance, the warning signs and potential risks of suicide can be recognized and, if necessary, acted upon. Survivors of a suicidal attempt or ideation often report that it was because of involvement from a bystander that saved a life.
Those who do contemplate suicide often display warning signs of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and/or hopelessness. A Department of Defense report identified that 66.4 percent of suicides in 2015 displayed at least one psychosocial stressor such as relationships, legal problems, work conflict, or financial difficulties. Case review reveals multiple opportunity failures where a bystander could have intervened when a Soldier was inconsistent with his or her “normal” behavior.
The Army’s ACE – Act, Care, Escort – initiative is a call-to-action to encourage early intervention when a Solider or Civilian is experiencing negative stress or may be at risk for suicide. If you are concerned about a Soldier or Civilian, start a conversation and ask directly if he or she is considering suicide. Discussions about suicide do not create dark thoughts but instead foster a healthy environment that supports seeking help as a sign of strength. Active listening without judgement will show that you care; it’s ok to not understand exactly how someone feels but show empathy. Finally, if you think an emergency exists, escort the Soldier or Civilian to the nearest emergency room, never leaving them alone, or call 911 if they are unwilling.
A number of programs are already in place to provide help to both those in a crisis and those providing support. For those currently serving in the Armed Forces, Veterans, and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1, chat online at veteranscrisisline.net, or send a text to 828255. For those with no military affiliation, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 or online chat at A number of programs are already in place to provide help to both those in a crisis and those providing support. For those currently serving in the Armed Forces, Veterans, and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1, chat online at veteranscrisisline.net, or send a text to 828255. For those with no military affiliation, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 or online chat at suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Both services are free and confidential and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Suicide prevention is every Soldier’s and Army Civilian’s responsibility. By unconditionally including first line leader involvement, peer interaction, and appropriate clinical care, we will be successful in preventing suicides.