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Broken ties that bind Fort Knox officials address season of suicide'

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Story by Eric Pilgrim on 06/28/2019
John V. died at 2 in the morning on a warm summer Monday. Cynthia C. died near Christmastime at 4:15 p.m. Kurt T. was a senior noncommissioned officer. Timothy J. was a civilian employee; Sarah P. was a captain.

Health experts say there seems to be no concrete pattern or trend they can put their fingers on to explain suicide. Reasons vary, seasons vary; days, family dynamics, ranks, genders, job titles all vary. And yet, suicides continue to pose a threat to military health and morale.

Yet, statistics do bear out that summer tends to show spikes in suicides within the military community. Fort Knox officials account that to a number of possible variables.

"Within the military community during summer months, we have [permanent change of station] changes: changes with school, family moves and moves from families," said Bill Taylor, Fort Knox Army Substance Abuse Program manager and Community Ready and Resilience integrator.

"When we talk about suicide, it's complex," said LovieAnn Terrado, Fort Knox Army Substance Abuse Program specialist. "Life is hard, but when you look at the summertime, maybe you have family members. As a parent, maybe you have children getting married, maybe you have children going off to college and you're now a new empty-nester you have all those life transitions.

"At our offices, we try to bring light to the risk factors."

Terrado and her colleagues at ASAP conduct regular classes for Soldiers, civilian employees and others in what they say is an effort to empower members of the community to help each other through difficulties. Therefore, in training sessions they provide different resources geared to supporting resilience.

Several years ago, the U.S. Army constructed the concepts of military resilience on five pillars: emotional; physical; spiritual; family; and social. Leaders recognized that Soldiers, federal civilian employees and their families faced unique challenges. Terrado said she delves into them during training to demonstrate why each is important to the overall health and wellbeing of a person.

"We tell them about protective factors what can they do to keep themselves safe and encourage their battle buddies left and right, as well as their Family members, to be safe," said Terrado. "No one is immune to life's tragedies."

Terrado and Taylor said they see vibrant and engaged relationships as key to helping those who are susceptible to suicidal thoughts get beyond tragedies.

"When we talk about the risk factors, if someone was going through something in their life, you wouldn't know that unless you get to know them," said Terrado. "We encourage people to get beyond just the simple hello, and to invest in and nurture those relationships.

"That way you will know your coworkers; you will know your family members."

Those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts and those who suspect they know somebody who is can tap into several resources to get help. Nationally, those resources include Real Warriors Real Battles at www.realwarriors.net or (866) 966-1020; Military OneSource Real Battles at www.militaryonesource.com or (800) 342-9647; Institute of Heartmath at www.heartmath.org; and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 (TALK). Locally, those resources include the chain of command, family counselors, the Civilian Employment Assistance Program at ASAP for civilian employees, medical behavioral health counselors and chaplains.

Focused more on the spiritual wellbeing, chaplains at Fort Knox say they see hopelessness as a common thread in many suicides.

"Suicide represents an existential crisis," said Chaplain (Maj.) Todd Claypool, chaplain resource manager at the Fort Knox Resource Support Center. "It equates to a loss of hope, and we deal in the realm of hope."

Chaplain (Maj.) Suyoung Lee, the Fort Knox Family Life Center chaplain, said he and others focus their help on listening with empathy to those who are struggling with life tragedies and then offering them guidance on how to "fill their spiritual buckets" with resiliency.

"Listening is so important," said Lee. "Definitely when they are upset or sad, or lonely, figuring out what they are feeling is important. Then I can recommend ways for them to reconnect to hope."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide in 2017 was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. More than 47,100 people took their lives that year; over twice the number of homicides that occurred. For Americans ages 10-34, it was second only to unintentional injury.

Save.org estimates the rate of suicide each day to be approximately 123; a suicide every 12 minutes. Of those Americans who attempt suicide each year, an estimated quarter of a million join the ranks of suicide survivors. That amounts to roughly one suicide for every 25 attempts.

The National Institute of Mental Health defines suicide as "death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with intent to die as a result of the behavior."

Numbers reflect that suicide rates are highest among whites and Native Americans. Among all the causes that lead a person to commit suicide, depression tops the list, leading mental health experts declare that 80-90% of those who seek therapy and/or medications for depression are treated successfully.

Officials at Fort Knox want people to know that they are open and willing to help people who are hurting, even after hours.

Soldiers who need help are encouraged to walk into Behavior Health in Building 1480; civilian employees can see the Employee Assistance Professional in Building 1224. In urgent situations or after hours, Taylor encourages those in need to go to the nearest hospital, or even call 911.

"While we may see increases in suicides between the spring and fall time, we have to be constantly vigilant and look out for people year round," said Taylor.

Terrado agreed: "One loss is one life too many."

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