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5 Installations Lead the Way in Suicide Prevention Efforts

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (May 17, 2019) -- A handful of common themes have emerged from among the installations named as top performers in the effort to reduce suicide numbers among service members, families and civilians, the director of the Defense Human Resources Activity said.

"The theme has been consistent among these award winners: community, family, connection, connection, connection. And more connections," William H. Booth said.

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"That's the way we can drive the numbers in the right direction. Across our department right now, the numbers are not going in the right direction. So from this group of award winners, we need to take those best practices and try to drive it across the entire Department of Defense."

The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and National Guard each identified one installation they believed was doing the best work toward suicide prevention during Suicide Prevention Month last year. Representatives from each of those installations traveled to Washington to be recognized for suicide prevention efforts.

Winning Installations

1) Fort Carson -- Fort Carson, Colorado, whose Suicide Prevention Month program adopted a "Value of Life" theme, which was promoted throughout September. Message boards were placed across the installation that encouraged individuals to post and share inspirational and motivational thoughts. Fort Carson's kickoff event was a community picnic that was attended by more than 600 soldiers, family members, veterans and local residents. During the month, Fort Carson also expanded awareness about suicide prevention strategies and resources through unit-level awareness and resource briefings that reached more than 400 soldiers.

2) Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni -- Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, kicked off Suicide Prevention Month with an American Forces Network radio live stream that provided factual suicide prevention and intervention information to more than 3,000 listeners. They also published articles on behavioral health and suicide prevention in the September issue of their installation magazine and hosted events that provided information about suicide prevention, including strategies for assisting distressed individuals and accessing installation resources. Nearly 600 active-duty service members, dependents and civilian personnel visited these events.

3) Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam -- At Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, the Suicide Prevention Month program focused on community engagement and increasing awareness about the power of bystanders through publications, a targeted social media campaign, outreach to high-risk populations, awareness and prevention training, and engagement with installation leadership. They kicked off the month with a joint-service suicide prevention proclamation signing and a resource fair that had nearly 1,000 participants. The event also featured a pledge drive for participants to commit to take steps to prevent suicide and interactive photo opportunities using the #BeThere and #PreserveOurOhana slogan.

4) Misawa Air Base -- The Suicide Prevention Month program at Misawa Air Base, Japan, was focused on educating the community about suicide prevention and strengthening interpersonal connections. The base developed conversation cards that encouraged participants to discuss suicide prevention topics, including stress management and tips for building connections. More than 17,000 Misawa Connect cards were placed in various locations, including dining facilities, the bowling alley, the base chapel and the golf course.

5) Camp Atterbury -- The Indiana National Guard's Camp Atterbury hosted the "Got Your Six, Be There: Your Action Could Save a Life" 5K run/walk/bike event to bring attention to service members who have died by suicide and to support individuals currently struggling with suicidal thoughts and behaviors. The run was held in conjunction with Camp Atterbury's community day to emphasize the importance of community involvement in preventing suicide and to highlight suicide prevention resources. More than 130 people, representing nearly every branch of the military, participated in the race. In addition, 44 deployed service members participated in a shadow run in Kuwait.

Suicide prevention efforts at all five installations, as well as by similar teams at other installations across the department have "worked hard to create opportunities for their community members, both military and civilian," said Karen A. Orvis, director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office. "We know that's so important for suicide prevention. They built on that 'be there' theme through a variety of activities. From suicide prevention trainings, publications, media efforts, and community activities to foster engagement and connections and a variety of other means to get out that critical information about suicide prevention and intervention strategies and resources."

Elizabeth P. VanWinkle, executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency, said that suicide prevention efforts don't just touch the lives of those who might have considered suicide, they touch the lives of those who surround those individuals.

Suicide affects the lives of coworkers, teammates, families and friends, she said. When intervention can prevent a suicide, all those individuals benefit.

"You may not know the names or faces of every individual you have helped," VanWinkle told installation representatives. "But you have been there for them. You may not know the names or see the faces of the children whose parents or siblings are still with them today because of the efforts you do. But you have profoundly affected their lives. They are out there, and when you pause and reflect on your work, please know that you have played a vital role in all of their lives."

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