“You know, one of the hardest parts of these things is you often don't hear back about the lives that are being changed and saved. But we actually have heard back: 27 lives associated with our U.S. Armed Forces base. We’ve had 22 that I know of personally. All these suicide saves as a direct result of this program, that we know of, and that's across the globe because we have members that are connected to other servicemen and servicewomen in Korea, and on Facebook, and they're talking and they're saving lives all over the place. It's pretty amazing,” remarked a Chaplain with the U.S. Military.
This program is LivingWorks safeTALK. The Chaplain is a safeTALK instructor with over a decade of experience in the half-day suicide-alertness workshop that trains participants how to recognize signs, engage the person with thoughts of suicide, and connect them to an intervention resource for further support.
Based at a U.S. military base in Italy, the Chaplain is in one of the world’s hardest hit regions of the COVID-19 pandemic. An overseas assignment can already present a large challenge to a member of the Armed Services. Culture shock, isolation, and being away from family and friends can cause mental stress—and in some instances—contribute to thoughts of suicide. Most of the 27 lives saved from safeTALK training were on the base in Italy, with the other saves coming from military staff trained there and using their skills via technology for military members with thoughts of suicide stationed elsewhere.
How can the military take care of its people and keep them safe from suicide? Many bases struggle to find ways, but this U.S. military base abroad has hit on a winning combination. And, as is often the case, the exact start of things going right can be hard to pin down, but the winning piece is clear.
“Leadership,” said the Chaplain. He credits a chance meeting with another member of the U.S. military—an ardent LivingWorks ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training: trains participants to provide suicide intervention support) trainer and survivor of suicide ideation—combined with a call to action from their commander and a community effort of suicide prevention advocates, with coming up with a multilayered approach creating “Defense in Depth”.
“Our commander is very ‘military members and their families first’ because he understands that that's what drives the mission. We can't do a mission without our military members and without our families supporting those military members. And so, he believed that we needed to try and reduce that suicide risk to the best we could, to the highest extent,” recalled the Chaplain.
And the chaplain cites his fellow LivingWorks trainer and military member with being the catalyst for what is turning out to be both an ambitious and successful suicide awareness and prevention program able to log actual interventions, the Holy Grail of suicide prevention and intervention efficacy tracking.
“I happened to have an interaction with a fellow leader, where it came up that I had personal experience with suicide that prompted me to become a certified ASIST trainer. He asked me to tell him more about that. And next thing you know, he charged me to develop a coalition and a plan, and report back to him in a month. The Chaplain was my first call,” the U.S. military member related, describing how he and the Chaplain initiated the plan, along with other personnel.
“Frankly, in order to change a culture, you need to have a lot of senior leaders buy in—we did, and that set us up for success,” said the military member.
To date, all the senior U.S. leaders at the base have taken safeTALK. Then the team built up a cadre of ASIST-trained individuals in most of the units across the base, thus creating that Defense in Depth that the Chaplain spoke of, which mirrors the LivingWorks Network of Safety where everyone has a role to play. And these roles are turning out to be life savers. 27 and counting.
To learn more about the Network of Safety, read here.
Testimonials from service members do not connote or imply endorsement of this product by the U.S. Department of Defense.