According to new data from the U.S. Department of Defense, in 2018 there was an uptick in the number of suicides among active military members.
Personnel at Camp Robinson said they have a suicide prevention program that focuses on preventative measures and peer outreach. So far, they haven’t seen an uptick, but they say that doesn’t mean their work is done.
“About the same over the past five years. Approximately two suicides a year,” said Charles Waddell who manages the suicide prevention program.
“One suicide is too many for us,” said Major William Phillips who has served for 28 years.
Currently, the suicide prevention program takes a proactive stance by working to identify risk factors through routine evaluations. That data is then used to help those who could be struggling.
“Provide to the command the resources necessary to be able to reduce the number of risk factors that might be in the unit or individuals in the unit,” said Waddell.
Waddell went on to say peer outreach is another key component that makes the program a success.
“We also try and get to the place where we equip the soldiers themselves to be able to recognize those warning signals,” said Waddell.
Even with all those measures, personnel say the program is not perfect.
“Any loss hits home. It hurts,” said Major Phillips. “None of us wants to feel that way. None of us wants to experience that, so anytime someone passes, it’s a big deal for us.”
During his 28 years of service, Major Phillips says he’s personally seen several of his fellow soldiers struggle with suicidal thoughts.
“It shocks you to your core. It makes you really pay attention to the signs,” said Major Phillips. “It really makes you pay attention to those who work with you and for you.”
He said by raising awareness and starting an open conversation, he hopes those who feel helpless find the strength to ask for help.
“It’s no longer looked at as a sign of weakness to ask for help,” said Major Phillips. “Everyone in this organizations understands that we all need help at some time. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.”
He said he hopes those struggling with suicidal thoughts can recognize there’s hope.
“Reach out to someone. There is someone in your life. There is someone who cares,” said Major Phillips. “There is someone who wants to see you do well. You may think there’s not, but there’s someone there who cares about you.”
Waddell and Phillips said there are many resources for those trying to cope with depression and suicidal thoughts.
For a list of resources, click here.