National Guard plans suicide stand-down; asks for support
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National Guard plans suicide stand-down; asks for support

Date: September 20, 2012
By: Jamie Ries
State Capitol Bureau
Links: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org and reportingonsuicide.org

JEFFERSON CITY - After four reported suicides in Missouri, the Missouri National Guard is planning a community-based intervention program Sept. 27.

The U.S. Department of Defense reported on Aug. 16 that there have been 116 active-duty suicides: 66 have been confirmed as suicides and 50 remain under investigation this year. The Missouri National Guard reported four suicides so far in 2012.  

The Department of Defense reported 165 confirmed suicides in 2011 with no cases under investigation.

"If the suicide rate is in the indicative of anything, it is a byproduct of our training," said Gary Gilmore, the state chaplain of the Missouri National Guard. "We call the trainings interventions and I know we save lives by doing training like this."

The National Guard is calling the intervention a "stand-down." It will take place on Sep. 27 at local armories and command posts across the state and provide clothing, food and other resources for its members.

Gilmore said the stand-down will create an environment of safety and security under which members can gain a renewed sense of self-respect, comradeship and hope. He also said it is an opportunity for the community to connect with the homeless and depressed member population and address this crisis that affects every town, city and state in this country.

The U.S. Army said the last suicide stand-down was in 2009. Unlike the previous stand-down, army officials will follow-up with stand-down attendees in October and assessments of members will not be as prescriptive as before.

Gilmore said economic concerns, legal action and relationship issues all contribute to suicide rates among national guard members.

"There is no specific reason why soldiers commit suicide because everyone has their reason," Gilmore said. "If members take a bullet for each other when they are deployed, why would they let each other go when they're home?"

Supporters of the Army stand-down include Veterans Affairs and the Community Health Providers. The National Guard is currently working on pastor partnerships in small towns to intervene with suicide attempts. Some pastors have agreed to be on standby at local churches where members live and will inform the National Guard of any suicide attempt.

Scott Perkins, spokesman for the Missouri Suicide Prevention Project, said they plan on donating food and clothing for the stand-down. Perkins said the project operates workshops and provides materials to train people for suicide prevention.

"Usually the guard members come out during the weekends," Perkins said. "Most suicides happen when they are back home."

Perkins also said that suicide in the National Guard comes down to the same issues that everyone else faces, but there is a certain stigma within the National Guard about asking for help.

"Soldiers are afraid to get help because of the stigma that depression is weak," Perkins said. "Guard members might be afraid to ask for help in fear that doing so will hurt future advancements."  

Stephen Gaither, public affairs officer for Missouri Veterans Affairs, said the organization supports the National Guard to create "awareness" of the various resources available to veterans. The office is partnered with the Army National Guard, but does not fundraise. It is part of the federal government and therefore funded by the government.

The stand-down will also be supported by the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, the Department of Mental Health and faith based communities.

Both Gilmore and Perkins said anyone can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The phone number is 1(800) 273-TALK. 


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