Veterans Affairs: Soldier Suicide Awareness

Memorial Day meaning and Veterans Affairs:

Soldier Suicide Awareness—

Churches, pastors, civilians needed to ‘ASIST’ in preventing soldier suicides

Teddy James

“Are you thinking about killing yourself?”

The question is startling, shocking, and necessary for many in the armed forces.

The problem is big
“In the world of the military, we are killing ourselves quicker than the enemy is,” Chaplain/Lt. Col. Terry Partin told AFA Journal.

Roughly 22 soldiers take their lives every day, according to the most recent studies released by the Pentagon. That statistic has been true since 2011. In 2014, the latest year a large study was done, the Army’s suicide rate for active-duty soldiers was 25 per 100,000. Compare that to 13 per 100,000 in the civilian world.

Scientists and mental health experts have long studied the issue, but have been unable to explain why this suicide epidemic exists.

“The military may not fully understand why this is happening, but leadership is trying to meet the challenge head on,” Partin said. “I cannot state how much I appreciate the focus on this. They have made it a priority to understand the issues and provide training and help for all soldiers. Beyond that, I have to commend the military chaplains who are engaging so deeply with their troops and doing their best to help them.”

The solution is growing
In the last few years, the Department of Defense has begun using material developed in-house by military personnel and training developed outside the military for chaplains and soldiers interested in helping at-risk soldiers.

One such training, created by Living Works (livingworks.net), is ASIST, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.

“ASIST does not seek to make someone a therapist,” Partin said. “It follows an intervention model. Think of it like first aid. If a person trained in first aid approaches a car wreck, he isn’t going to perform surgery or do any intensive medical activity. He will do his best to keep that person alive long enough to get him proper help. That is the same goal of ASIST.”

ASIST is used by soldiers and those involved in the lives of soldiers, but it is applicable and beneficial to anyone desiring to help people around them.

The answer is you
Partin and other leaders of ASIST want to see churches and community leaders go through the training as well.

“I encourage anyone in a position that regularly gives them opportunities to help others to seek out ASIST,” Partin said. “That includes pastors, teachers, anyone who may be called in moments of crisis.”

For pastors specifically, Partin said it is important for them to make a special effort.

“Many soldiers won’t go to their commanding officers with personal issues, especially if those issues include suicidal thoughts. There is still a stigma surrounding that concept in the military. But pastors can open that door simply by having a strong, one-on-one relationship with the soldiers in his church. Open that door, build that bridge, and pray for an opportunity to speak into the lives of the soldiers and soldiers’ families in your congregation.”

For more information about attending an ASIST class, or to set up training at your church, visit livingworks.net.

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