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Posted 3/15/2009

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Your friend and co-worker, James, hasn’t been acting like himself lately. He unleashed a whirlwind of angry emotions at the company picnic last weekend, and his work performance has been consistently sub-par for more than a month. His wife tells you James has been very irritable lately, and that sometimes she’s afraid to approach him.

What do you do?

A similar scenario played out (on a large video screen) Monday in the cafeteria during a Secretary of the Army-directed, suicide prevention training block for the district's leadership. The training block was Phase I of a two-part instructional series, and leadership has until March 15 to pass the instruction to all military personnel and DA civilian employees within the district.

The training is in response to the upward spike in the number of men and women in uniform who killed themselves last year.

“In 2008, 142 Soldiers took their own lives,” said Louisville District USACE  Commander Col. Keith Landry. “This group cut across every segment of the Army. The suicide rate has essentially doubled since 2001. In the past eight years, you have seen the OPTEMPO of the Army and USACE increase dramatically.”

The Army’s goal is to educate employees on how to recognize the combinations of symptoms that may indicate a person is contemplating suicide. The training brings home the point that everyone should be vigilant in keeping an eye out for the battle-buddy or co-worker.

Anyone who notices a sign or a pattern of signs, or who overhears someone make a remark about harming themselves or others, must get involved. What steps to take will depend on the exhibited behavior. Appropriate action might be paying closer attention to the individual, asking the person if they’re okay, consulting with a professional, or another approach. But signs must not be ignored. 

And, if someone doesn’t know how to respond, then that person must elevate the situation, said Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Stephen Bales.

“You must be willing to step in and confront the person,” Bales told the trainers. “If you can’t, you must get somebody else to do it.”

Although the mandatory training was in response to the spike in Soldier suicides, Landry, who also was part of Monday’s briefing, reminded USACE employees that they also face tremendous amounts of pressure, here and abroad.

“As we draw closer to the end of the BRAC build-out and begin to execute the economic stimulus "adds" while also meeting deployment requirements to Iraq and Afghanistan, there will be increased pressure to perform well and quickly,” he told all employees in an email emphasizing the importance of the training.. “That pressure may creep into the organization and create stress which, when added to stress from personal issues, causes people to consider harming themselves.

“I lost two cousins to suicide between 1984 and 1991,” Landry added. “As a young major in Korea in 2000, I found myself alone with a Soldier who was making suicidal gestures. I have seen the devastating effect suicide has on people and units both in and out of combat. I do not want this team to lose someone this way. I ask that you participate fully in this training as we expand it throughout the district and help us help each other.”

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, or they’re exhibiting the signs associated with suicide, several resources are available for assistance.

You can visit www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/suicide/default.asp Or call the National Suicide Hotline at 1800-SUICIDE.