A different war: Military families do battle with suicide

Published: Sunday, April 27 2014 8:10 p.m. MDT

"Get help," said Adam, a 34-year-old veteran from West Jordan, who asked that only his first name be used. "It’s hard to get help because you feel kind of weak, but the strength you gain from it is so much better."

Jorgensen, whose friend was one of the soldiers who died by suicide last year, said soldiers may not seek help while they’re in combat because they don’t want to be pulled from missions or leave their “battle buddies,” so they just “tough it out.” For some, asking for help is accepting defeat or letting their buddies down.

“The stigma is that you can’t be trusted if you seek help, you’re crazy, you’re weak if you seek help, … but it takes a strong person to go get help, to realize they need help,” Jorgensen said.

The military is trying to eliminate that stigma and improve suicide prevention efforts.

“It’s not weak for you to seek help. If you even feel depressed or you can’t get over something that happened and you’re feeling like you’re in a corner, seek help,” Jorgensen said.

Training and treatment

Capt. Dave Wood, a psychologist for the National Guard, said the Army goes through an annual “suicide standown,” basically a briefing on suicide prevention. Soldiers learn about risk factors, resources, hotlines, what to do and where to go.

“The idea that we really heavily rely on is the grass-roots buddy to pay attention, to act, and to get that person to safety,” Wood said.

Another training effort is the comprehensive soldier fitness program. In the Army, each company has at least one master resiliency trainer who gives monthly training on resiliency skills. The efficacy isn’t certain yet, as the program just started rolling out a few years ago, but Wood has noticed the training filtering into soldiers’ daily lives.

“There has been a little lag time from when the problem spiked and then when the response came. … I wouldn’t say that we’re there yet, but we’re working really hard,” Wood said.

Wood also said there is suicide intervention skills training, commonly called suicide first aid. He said it increases a person’s readiness and willingness to intervene.

“In most cases, if we can get in and talk to them, we can work with them and keep them safe,” Wood said. “It’s the ones that don’t talk to us that fall through the cracks.”

Military members have to be willing to talk during annual health assessments and post-deployment assessments, which are mandated right after deployment and again within six months.

"There is hope. It's absolutely curable. It's something you can live through," said Emily Hoerner with the Utah Chapter of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

They and their families can attend free classes provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Utah and attend therapy groups at the University Neuropsychiatric Institute.

"Today is not your whole life. What’s going on today is not your whole life, no matter how bad it is, no matter how dire your situation may be," Adam said.

Adam's story

Adam said he felt great at first when he got home and everything was better just because he didn't have enemy fire coming at him anymore. But it didn't take long for things to start heading downhill.

When he came back from Iraq in 2004 after five years of Army service, he didn't have much support. He said the resources soldiers have now were essentially nonexistent at the time.

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