LINCOLN, MASS. - “One a day” was the cover title of a recent TIME magazine. The title refers to the current rate of suicide for Service members of the U.S. military.
One Soldier a day, is one too many.
The Resilience, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention Training Conference at Hanscom Air Force base, here, Aug. 3, brings together Soldiers representing their units as suicide intervention officer, a master resilience trainer or resilience training assistant from the Massachusetts National Guard. There was a guest panel that included members of the University of Massachusetts Medical Department of Psychology.
“Today, we are rearming ourselves in the battle against suicide,” said Brig. Gen. Paul Smith, assistant adjutant general (Army) for the Massachusetts Army National Guard.
The U.S. Army has seen a surge of suicides amongst troops this year, a number so high that fewer troops have been killed in action in Afghanistan this year and the Army is taking the challenge head on. They are providing Soldiers with the skills needed to cope with the stress of military life. Also, it gives their leaders the knowledge to identify a problem before it becomes too much for any Soldier to carry on their own.
“It’s a battle we have to bear down on, a battle we can not afford to lose,” said Smith.
The mission of the training program is to allow for Soldiers and families to develop coping skills that are needed to handle everyday stressors, as well as to bounce back and have positive growth after a traumatic event.
“Tragic numbers of Guardsmen are dying by suicide. I would love to be able to come up with an answer as to why people commit suicide, but I don’t have an answer, it’s not just one thing,” said Dr. Barry N. Feldman, director of psychiatry programs in public safety and assistant professor of psychiatry at the UMASS Medical School.
“For 11 years we have been at war. The war is not over, we are still at war. We will take a knee, and heal our force. A big part of that is making our Soldiers healthy again, that’s our mission,” said Smith.
Helping with that mission are leading experts in addiction, substance abuse, suicide, traumatic brain injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder from UMASS Medical.
Headed by Feldman and six of his colleagues with the UMASS Medical Department of Psychology and the Massachusetts National Guard, together, developed a suicide prevention program for the Guard.
“Although their hair may be different than those in the military, they are with us in the fight,” said Feldman about his colleagues in working with the Guard.
The master resilience training course is an established training program that has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing behavioral health problems among Soldiers.
Additionally, they will serve as subject matter experts for their commanders.
This program has resulted in 30 trained master resilience trainers, a substantial increase from last year, as well as an increase to 102 trained resilience training assistants.
In addition, a SIO within a unit is able to recognize Soldiers who are at risk and are able to do an intervention process and assist the command in helping that Soldier.
The course provides master resilience trainers and assistants with problem solving abilities, conflict resolution skills, and the ability to handle disputes using non-violent methods. They can identify the risk factors that heighten the risk of an individual being suicidal.
“Soldiers would normally go to their first leader with a problem, and his or her problem would then go up the chain, making Soldiers hesitant to open up about their problems,“ said Staff Sgt. Diane P. Duarte, human resource specialist for the 51st Troop Command.
With this program, Soldiers can go directly to the MRT, allowing the Soldier to be more comfortable knowing that the MRT can help, without their problem possibly becoming common knowledge.
“We have a better understanding of how to deal with any existing problem, how to identify if a problem exists and then take the appropriate action to deal with those issues,” said Duarte.
With the help of Feldman, his team at UMASS Medical and the National Guard, Soldiers have an opportunity they did not have prior. The chance to speak to someone within their unit about their problems and having their problems identified as well as corrected within their unit.
“Nobody wakes up on a given day and decides to end their life, there are warning signs. That’s where your role is important,” said Feldman.