An entire day of Army Suicide Prevention training at recruiting school

It’s no secret that the military is facing a staggering suicide rate, more than one every day now. The trend was spotted years ago, and was the basis for justifying 2009′s $125 Mil. ‘Spiritual Fitness’ nonsense. Since then, the suicide rate has skyrocketed, as more and more money is being wasted on a religious approach to a mental health problem.

Since I made that info-graphic a few months back, the Army’s data suggests an even bigger increase may be looming. According to Fort Jackson’s Commanding General, the Army tallied 38 suicides for July 2012.

Army responds with a suicide prevention day

Thursday was entirely dedicated to suicide prevention for my class at the Army Recruiter school in Fort Jackson. This was no 10 minute ‘check the block’ power point ‘class’. This was for real! I’m aware of similar training at other bases. I imagine that many soldiers reading this now have either recently been through it, or are about to.

My experience was actually overwhelmingly positive. Not one bit of that terrible Spiritual Fitness training made it into the 6 hours of training that I faced. Unfortunately, I received several reports from other bases that didn’t do the right thing. Look for a shocking story about what happened at Fort Sam Houston on Monday – it will disgust you.

If your suicide prevention training plan includes mandatory candlelight prayers, you are wrongThat picture is very relevant, more to come. If you experienced any mandatory religious training this week, please tell me immediately.

The bright side is, at least at Fort Jackson’s Army Recruiter school, the training was spectacularly on target and crafted with careful attention towards secular / chaplain-neutral advice. This is in contrast to the standard Army advice I usually hear, “send him to the chaplain” as the first (or only) viable option.

Report Card for Army Recruiter school:

Command Presence:

Statements from several high-ranking military officials were crafted seemingly just for this day. At the very least, the messages were coordinated recently. I also commend the commanders, especially Brig. Gen. Roberts, for breaking down the troubling numbers in detail. Honest appraisals of the situation help to combat the ‘sweep it under the rug’ attitude of the past.

Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Chief of Staff of the Army

Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army

Brig. Gen. Bryan T. Roberts, Fort Jackson Commanding General

Sgt. Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III

Score: All of their messages were entirely secular. A+

Content:

As far as content, admittedly much of it was drawn from the existing ACE training. Ask Care Escort  (ACE) approach to suicide prevention is direct and useful. I wish I had this training in time, honestly. It’s typically a 50-slide powerpoint presentation with a few videos and vignettes sprinkled throughout. Basically, the instructor makes or breaks it – but I’ll save that assessment for last.

The video content is somewhat dated, but not useless. Other than the Good Charlotte music video (maybe it’s just me), most people appreciated the celebrities that contributed personal testimony and well-wishing from Terry Bradshaw, Gary Sinise, and others. The information at the heart of the training is obviously what’s most important. It was generally informative, but could be improved. For instance, the hands on ‘role playing’ activity planned is very likely to come off as forced, abrupt, and awkward.

The ‘interactive’ scenario questions are fine, but the answers insult our intelligence (the answer is always ‘C’ and the others are depictions of straight up cruel behavior and obviously wrong). A few times, ‘take him to the chaplain’ was suggested without indicating that a person needs to check if that’s even wanted, and at the expense of offering actual medical help! I have no problem with Soldiers seeking chaplain’s assistance in these cases, but it really should be in tandem with medical professionals, regardless of whatever certification / training they receive. It should also be understood that the Chaplain is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Score: Mostly secular, or chaplain neutral, but could be improved. B+

Instructor:

I hope someone high up in the food chain is reading this. There was one point that was obviously a breakthrough. Our instructor improved upon the suggested ‘role play’ activity. Instead of acting through awkward scripts, he asked the class, “By show of hands – how many have known a person who committed suicide?” Half of us raised our hands.

We were broken into small groups, and encouraged (not forced) to share our stories. Only one person had time to share at our table, and it was a moving story. The real magic was in the reactions on the faces of the people who didn’t know anybody who had committed suicide. It instantly removed the stigma about talking about such things. Suddenly, it was obvious to everyone at the table that there was nothing shameful about admitting or discussing depression or suicide.

There we were staring at our friends and peers from the six weeks of training, mostly through studying and joking around. It was a breakthrough moment, and several people even said so. One person near me said, “I was one of those guys who thought it was ‘bad’ to talk about that stuff… but now I’m like… I wouldn’t look down on somebody at all.” This was an amazing experience. Keep in mind, we’ve all had ‘this’ training 20 times already. This one thing was new and different.

Score: This was the best Suicide Prevention training I’ve seen. A+

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About Justin Griffith
  • http://www.facebook.com/christine.hadley.31 christinehadley

    I was Navy, not Army, but I was one of those attempted suicides, and frankly I see nothing wrong with talking about it, it’s the people around me that get all uncomfortable -including my ex- and try to shush me like it is a bad thing. “Sweeping it under the rug” is probably one of the worst things that can be done with an attempted suicide, and even a successful one, because that just makes people less likely to try and seek help when they want or need it. I never even saw the chaplain. In fact, I can’t remember ever meeting the ship’s chaplain. My post-hospital care (as in, where I was put to work and so on) was controlled by medical, seeing as I absolutely refused to go back to my original job. Then again, the difference IS Navy vs Army. I don’t know if this Spiritual Fitness drivel is only in one branch or all branches.

    • Justin Griffith

      Thank you for sharing. Suicide has touched my family, and my friend SPC Bradford took his life this year. I also found out that another good friend of mine just got out of the Army after multiple suicide attempts (I was completely unaware as we hadn’t spoke in a few years). The military needs to do something besides that religious BS that only made it worse!

      It’s just starting to bleed over into the other branches. Also, take a look at the story that will be breaking on Monday at Fort Sam Houston. I’m going to need plenty of people to demand a fix to that situation. (sorry for being somewhat cryptic, but you’ll see).

  • Rick Craig

    What does “Suicide Prevention Training” even look like??

    Traniner: “Okay soldiers, all of you take out your sidearms and point them at your heads and do nothing else. Everybody set? Right! That’s improper! Now point your sidearm straight up in the air. Slowly squeeze the trigger… [a sound of many bangs] There! You have just properly prevented suicide the Army way. So remember this training if you ever feel like committing suicide! Carry on!”

    • Justin Griffith

      No. This is really quite serious. The training looks like the one linked to in the post (power point slide). Or also take a look at the various SHOCKING ‘spiritual fitness’ training slides featured all over this blog. You can likely google image search them easily. They are disgusting.

  • Wesley

    Justin,

    I’m navy at a very very small joint command in DC. I’m proud to say that I was “forced” to attend the army suicide prevention class.

    My CO is an army colonel who decided all services would benefit from it.

    One of my SFC did some of the training, he did part of it and yeah it really was the best training I’ve had. The navy sorta does the push button statistics..blah blah sign the RADM print out most of the time.

    No mentions of religion other then the chaplain as an option for someone to talk to as one many options.

    • Justin Griffith

      Glad to hear that my experience was not unique!

  • http://www.facebook.com/susan.lee.792 susanlee

    I admit, I am 1 part asshole about mando religion. I’ve said on more than one occassion, “You can have it be mandatory, or you can have it be religious, but not both.”

    “Or I’ll lawyer up.”

    • Justin Griffith

      This is precisely the right attitude.

    • M, Supreme Anarch of the Queer Illuminati

      Brilliant. And I mean that non-sarcastically.

      You’re not only (rightly) demanding what you are personally due, you’re providing a service to everyone else in the services and everyone who joins up in the future. My civilian equivalent of a salute goes to you. Every step towards a First-Amendment-compliant military makes it easier for me to consider a post-grad-school term; and more importantly, lets the people who are already in focus more on their jobs and less on theocratic bullshit.

      We need more people who are “assholes” about mandatory religious crap.

  • http://confessionsfromthepeanutgallery.blogspot.com/ YankeeCynic

    I think one of the biggest problems, at least from the leadership perspective, is trying to get leaders engaged. And I don’t think it’s because most unit leadership doesn’t care; quite the opposite. I think it more has to do with HOW we go about suicide prevention.

    A safety stand-down day can be great, and as you’re demonstrating if done correctly it can have a big impact. But most of the time these sorts of things are presenting the same material in the same way and eating up huge chunks of the day. That might not be necessarily bad at the lower level, but I know for myself and my peers on more than one occasion the number one thing going our heads is “this is two/three/four more hours I need to stay in the office to complete all the work that was piling up when this training was under way. That doesn’t help associate suicide prevention with a great emotional state of mind.

    That said, we forget at our peril that the Army is a reflection of society as a whole, and we as a society have huge problems with suicide and mental health. I doubt we’ll fix the Army until we fix society; that said, changing the culture of the Army can also help prod society in the right direction as well. Which is why getting suicide prevention in the Army right is such a huge deal; we not only police our own ranks, but we help make society better as service members interact with the public both while in uniform and out of uniform.


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