When it comes to preventing military and Veteran suicides, LivingWorks President Rick Trimp speaks with the steady perspective of a seasoned healthcare leader. “For all that’s unknown about suicide, there are some known quantities here,” said Trimp. “When you get people with the right skills in the right places, when they know what to look out for and how to respond, and you mobilize that on a unit- or community-wide level—you’re going to start saving lives.”
That community-wide approach—the idea that everyone can and should be part of suicide prevention efforts—is relatively new in the suicide prevention field. Trimp believes it’s the key to reversing the high suicide rates affecting active duty Service Members and Veterans in the United States and around the world. A former US Navy Corpsman who went on to become a healthcare executive, he’s spent over three decades working to address health issues—from disease control to disaster response—at a population scale. Since becoming President of LivingWorks in early 2018, he’s been using that same big-picture thinking take the organization’s life-saving mission to the next level.
“LivingWorks has been at the leading edge of suicide prevention for over thirty years,” said Trimp. “In that time, we’ve trained more than 350,000 US Service Members and Veteran service providers. On one hand, that’s a tremendous number and we’ve seen major impacts as a result. But when you consider how many millions of people have served over that period, and how many Veterans there are across the country, it’s just the beginning of what we need to achieve.”
Evolving challenges, emerging solutions
Just as Service Members’ and Veterans’ challenges have evolved over the last three decades, so have LivingWorks’ approaches. “We’ve had thirty years to learn what works, what doesn’t, and to refine our approach,” said Trimp. The result of that refinement is a suite of integrated training programs for a variety of skill levels, supported by digital analytics, strategic consultation, and step-by-step customer service from LivingWorks’ experts.
LivingWorks is adamant that the suicide prevention field needs to move beyond a “one-size-fits-all” training approach. “Not everyone is necessarily going to want or need to learn the same skills,” said Trimp. “Similarly, not every leader is going to feel comfortable releasing their personnel for an extended period of training. If you meet people where they are in terms of their comfort, their time, and their knowledge level, they’re much more likely to get on board and use those skills to help save a life,” said Trimp.
One major initiative driving toward that heightened accessibility is LivingWorks Start, the organization’s first online training program. “Our training has traditionally been entirely face-to-face, and that’s important for those in-depth intervention skills. But now we’re able to offer more basic ‘identify and connect’ skills online as well. People can learn this anytime, anywhere and then come in ready to be a part of the community effort.” With early adoptions of LivingWorks Start in the Army Reserve National Guard and other services, LivingWorks is anticipating a big impact.
Hope takes flight at Hurlburt Field
Impact is the name of the game as leaders and policymakers search for answers that will save lives. The effectiveness of LivingWorks training is validated by over 50 peer-reviewed studies and government reports, which show everything from improvements in trainees’ readiness to better outcomes for those in crisis. However, Trimp says that some of the most powerful evidence comes from seeing a community transformation.
That’s what happened at Hurlburt Field, the 10,000-person Air Force Special Operations base in Florida where leaders tackled above-average suicide rates with a base-wide deployment of LivingWorks training. LivingWorks safeTALK, designed to help people identify those with thoughts of suicide and connect them to help, was provided to all personnel as part of in-processing, along with many of their spouses. “The training for spouses is significant,” said Trimp. “It reflects the need to surround Service Members with support not only where they work, but also where they live.”
LivingWorks’ in-depth intervention program, LivingWorks ASIST, was used to train a core group of skilled intervention providers on the base. Using their LivingWorks safeTALK training, Service Members and their spouses could connect someone to this group for help. Paired with ongoing awareness campaigns and support from leadership, this remarkable approach reduced suicides from five to nine annually to less than one per year—a reduction of over 80%.
“What happened at Hurlburt Field was amazing to see,” said Trimp. “It speaks to the power of what people can achieve when they come together with a focused mission and the tools to make it happen.” The team at Hurlburt Field is getting calls from other installations looking to duplicate their results—and LivingWorks is just getting started.
A commitment to service
With a scalable solution for suicide prevention in hand, LivingWorks is ready to take this innovative approach far and wide. “We've met with dozens of leaders from the VA, DOD, and Veterans Service Organizations over the past year," said Trimp. “We’re working to understand their needs and help them create strategies to impact the suicide rates they’re facing. We’re taking the customer service we provide to a much higher level.”
LivingWorks’ enhanced customer service includes consultations, step-by-step planning, and a forthcoming digital analytics platform called LivingWorks Connect that will allow real-time data tracking so units and organizations can see the impact of training. The customer engagement continued at the Suicide Prevention Conference in Nashville from August 27-29.
“We were deeply honored to attend this conference and our team got to have meaningful conversations with hundreds of attendees,” Trimp said. “We appreciate their support for our programs, and we're ready to work with them to move forward. We’ve got some amazing momentum, and together we can achieve huge impact for Service Members and Veterans across the USA.”