Military uses social media to combat suicide

Published: Monday, Dec. 3 2012 11:49 a.m. MST

Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould speaks during an Associated Press interview as he attends a conference in Boston Tuesday, March 15, 2011 aimed at preventing military suicides. Ten months into 2012, the number of suspected suicides by active-duty soldiers surpassed last year's total, even as the Pentagon struggles to stem the persistent problem.

Elise Amendola, Associated Press

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Ten months into 2012, the number of suicides by active-duty soldiers surpassed last year’s total, reports the Washington Post. In the month of October there were 20 suicides, bringing the total for the year to 166 — one more than the total for 2011. The news indicates that the army’s long-running struggle with suicide is escalating despite efforts to increase programs and outreach for at-risk service members.

"Suicide is the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the Army," Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, vice chief of staff of the Army, said in a July press release. "To combat it effectively will require sophisticated solutions aimed at helping individuals to build resiliency and strengthen their life coping skills," he said.

The military is employing various methods in an effort to combat the epidemic. One strategy is to use a newly developed Facebook service that allows users to report suicidal comments they see on-line from friends. The website will then send the potential victim an email urging him to call the hot-line as well as chat confidentially on-line with a counselor, reports the Huffington Post.

The military has also created a special app aimed at army members who have contemplated suicide. The app includes important contact information and connections to suicide hot-lines for emergencies, as well as "distraction" games, coping cards, inspirational quotes, and photos and and sound messages from loved ones, reports Yahoo News.

The app is designed to be accessible for service men and women who are deployed and may not have access to mental health professionals. Since providers are "somewhat clustered in locations," help isn't always available in moments of crisis, according to military public affairs officer Joe Jimenez in an interview with Yahoo.

The army is also using more conventional strategies like power point presentations to train personnel about suicide prevention. However, some experts on suicide prevention call "this kind of training ‘death by PowerPoint’, according to an NPR report. "Troops today are already familiar with the dangers of post-traumatic stress and the warning signs of suicide," said Dartmouth University professor Tracy Stecker. "What they might not be as informed about are some individual strategies that they can take to maybe cope better with the situation at hand," she added.

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