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Empowering Military Families Through Suicide Prevention Training

LivingWorks

May 6, 2021



LivingWorks Start training is available to National Guard members, spouses and their families at no cost. To inquire about Start please contact the Suicide Prevention Program Coordinator in your unit.

A new initiative recently launched by the South Carolina Army National Guard (SCARNG) has LivingWorks Start at its core. The 100 Days of Mental Health campaign is designed to promote mental health, resilience and suicide prevention among Guard members and their families.

The campaign launched on March 1st and runs through US Mental Health Awareness month in May, wrapping up on June 8th. It’s a unique opportunity to engage Guard members in a discussion that many shy away from due to stigma and fear of professional repercussions. The National Guard wants its members to know it is committed to the health, safety and well-being of service members, veterans and families, and their mental health is a priority.

Throughout the campaign, daily inspirational messages and resources and are being provided to Guard members, including LivingWorks’ online suicide prevention training program. The Start program helps to teach people to recognize the signs of a colleague or family member who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide and connect them to help.

SCARNG has been leading the charge on suicide prevention. Since 2017, the SCARNG has made consistent efforts to develop training and resources to lower the number of suicides within its ranks. Suicide rates across the US have increased 35% over the past 20 years, with similar rates reflected among Service members. The most recent statistic reported by the Department of Defense shows 20.3 deaths per 100,000 service members. The sad reality is these deaths were preventable.

There are some unique factors that may be contributing to the Guard’s suicide rate. With 75% of the Guard being part-time, members alternate between military and civilian life, making it more challenging to spot when someone may be struggling with their mental health. The demographics of the National Guard also overlap two of the demographics with the highest suicide rates – males under 30 - and that makes suicide an important issue to address within the Guard.

With the 100 Days of Mental Health, SCARNG’s work is extending beyond state lines. As part of the campaign, 100 LivingWorks Start programs will be distributed at no charge to Guard members and their families in each of the 54 states and territories. To date, a number of states have jumped at the chance to engage in LivingWorks Start training with Guam, Alabama, Puerto Rico, West Virginia, Nebraska and Delaware showing the greatest interest.

To encourage Guard members to take advantage of this opportunity, Brigadier General David Jenkins, the Deputy Adjutant General of SCARNG offered these words:

“My challenge to the entire 54 states and territories is to engage with this program and be part of the solution. I invite you to join us through the end of May to take this course, at least 100 soldiers in your state or territory. I have personally taken it and the resources available are immense,” says Jenkins. “When you know what to listen for and hear those signs and follow the steps outlined in Start, I believe it gives us a much better chance to lead to positive outcomes and to get the soldiers the help they need in addressing mental challenges.”

Adding to that message, Command Sergeants Major William Kyzer spoke to the community safety net they’re working to build in South Carolina, which incorporates both civilian and military resources. At SCARNG, he says they’re working har dto eliminate the stigma around mental health and suicide.

“We have had our own unfortunate incidents and it all comes down to trust and courage. The individual soldier needs to have the trust in their leadership that they can come forward and ask for help and we need to encourage our soldiers to have the courage to come forward and say, ‘I need to take a knee,’ “ says Kyzer.

The 100 Days messages are gleaned from the book Trust Your Intuition: 100 Ways to Transform Anxiety and Depression for Stronger Mental Health, by author and mental health counsellor Jill Sylvester.

The excerpts break down the complex topic of depression and anxiety and offer simple tips and probing questions to help people become aware of how and why they’re feeling certain ways. Here are some examples:

  1. List three things that felt stressful to you today and that you’d like to release. Consciously choose to let go of each stressor as you exhale, reducing stress and inflammation.
  2. Where do you feel stuck? Notice your feelings around this dark energy. Listen closely. What does your depression say to you? Write down your ideas.
  3. Once you make a decision to feel better, watch how your thoughts begin to guide you in a more positive direction.

Sylvester says she’s honored her book inspired the campaign and that her work speaks to the stress that many Guard members may be feeling right now.

LivingWorks has been working with the SCARNG to prioritize suicide prevention training throughout the organization since 2017. Many members at SCARNG are already trained in LivingWorks Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST). In 2019, LivingWorks Start was approved as a pilot program as part of the Warrior Resilience and Fitness Innovation Incubator project. Its effectiveness to build suicide prevention skills and improve the confidence and willingness to help are being studied by the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA). Results of the study are due to be released later this year. Since 2019, other states have joined the pilot.

“Extending the availability of Start to Guard members and their families through the 100 Days of Mental Health campaign provides a great opportunity to build a network of safety around Guard members and create a community-wide preventative approach to suicide,” says LivingWorks President Rick Trimp. “We’re proud that the National Guard has chosen Start as their suicide prevention program of choice through its START Pilot Program and 100 Days of Mental Health. The National Guard is leading the charge on suicide awareness and prevention. Together, we’re protecting our soldiers, families and communities,” he adds.