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Suicide awareness video aimed at first-line supervisors

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Aug. 19, 2011) -- A new suicide prevention awareness video just released by the Army is aimed primarily at both junior leadership and first-line supervisors, to let them know their responsibility to be the first to identify and assist those in need.

"It is with the junior leader where the big difference is made," said Walter Morales, chief of the Army Suicide Prevention Program. "We want to have the junior leader take the reins of their subordinate personnel -- to include family members -- and provide them with the right know-how in order to not only stay personally resilient, but also impart those behaviors onto those who may be thinking about suicide or going through a stressful situation."

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The new video is called "Shoulder to Shoulder: Finding Strength and Hope Together." The video contains actual vignettes from Soldiers, Department of the Army Civilians, and family members, about their own suicide attempts, or the suicide of a loved one. It is the third such "Shoulder to Shoulder" video the Army has produced regarding suicide awareness since 2009's "No Soldier Stands Alone."

Morales said chaplains and professional mental (behavioral) health providers are important assets for the Army, but as important, is the first-line supervisors who can make the most impact in preventing suicides in the Army Family ranks.

"The video encourages first-line supervisors and junior leaders to intervene early in order to stop problems from escalating," Morales said. "This requires a lot of courage and at times, personal sacrifice as the intervention process may require a lot of time, but it simply has to be done."

The first-line supervisor has a role, and that role is to connect, assist, and make sure these personnel have the resources needed to avoid a needless loss."

The nearly 20-minute video features real Soldiers, DA Civilians, family members, and survivors -- not actors -- who talk about their experiences with the loss of a loved one, pain, and suicide.

"If it wasn't for that supervisor -- who didn't have any suicide prevention training, he was simply watching his Soldier, I wouldn't be sitting in front of you today," one Soldier said on camera. "I would be dead."

In another segment, the wife of a Soldier who had killed himself talked about her loss -- and lamented that her young daughter would never know her father.

Also in the video, an Army officer, a commander, reemphasized the role of leadership in helping Soldiers overcome suicide.

Morales also emphasized that "We can't let the Soldiers and families struggle with this independently, we can't let our hired professionals alone help them. Leaders have got to be brought in to the fact that it's okay to say 'I'm not okay.' And to allow the members of our Army family to go get help."

Morales also said that one very important aspect of the video is to help decrease the stigma associated with seeking behavioral health assistance.

"We, as leaders, must continue to get the message out that we understand the challenges, that we care, and that we stand ready to help heal those invisible wounds with dignity and respect," he said.

While Morales said it is difficult to measure the long-term effectiveness of videos such as those in the "Shoulder to Shoulder" series, he did say that training with such videos provides participants with "a higher level of understanding and competence that allows the person to know and practice those healthy behaviors that are focused in protecting life."

He also said surveys indicate the training is on target, is relevant, effective, and that it needs to be continued.

Suicides have risen in recent years among our Soldier population. Although a slight dip was noticed on active duty suicide rate in 2010. Regardless of the number of suicides, one suicide is one too many, and the Army will continue to provide all necessary resources to promote health, reduce risk, and prevent suicidal behaviors.

The video "Shoulder to Shoulder: Finding Strength and Hope Together" can be found online at

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