JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas --
(Editor’s note: If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the 24/7 Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255.)
In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Joint Base San Antonio Suicide Prevention Program has not stopped its life-saving efforts. They have simply reconfigured them to be flexible and meet people’s needs during a difficult time.
“The Army Substance Abuse Program, or ASAP, is well-known for the variety of outreach training programs we provide, but in the wake of the pandemic, we have been faced with the obstacle of restructuring our business model to accommodate virtual outreach,” said Hannah Jeanise, Suicide Prevention Program manager.
The team has developed a series of online courses for the JBSA community available at https://agrilifelearn.tamu.edu/catalog?pagename=army-substance-abuse-program
The courses cover overcoming social isolation and loneliness, moral injury, suicide risk, and concerns for school-aged minors. Completion of these courses constitutes a continuing education credit for military service providers.
The program also offers webinars to help individuals cope.
“We currently have monthly webinars that cover many social issues under the general umbrella of resilience,” said Marquette Kennedy, ASAP social media coordinator. “These webinars are truly amazing learning opportunities!”
Kennedy said the webinars also offer continuing education credit for social workers, licensed professional counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists, board-certified patient advocates, case managers, and certified family life educators.
Additionally, the Army’s Ask, Care, Escort – Suicide Intervention courses are being held monthly.
“We are following COVID-19 guidelines while having these courses face-to-face again,” Jeanise said. “We have many opportunities for leaders to get trained to participate in our campaigns and program to raise awareness and create more effective, individual-driven interventions.”
Both Jeanise and Kennedy stressed that the Suicide Hotline is the most accessible resource for individuals in distress and that nobody should feel hesitant about reaching out for help. The hotline number is 800-273-8255.
“One of the themes we see in our offices is, individuals feeling afraid of seeking counseling or some sort of treatment,” Jeanise said. “The on-post and off-post resources are available, and we’re doing our best to break the stigma that prevents people from reaching out."
One of the stigmas, unfortunately, is the belief that few people wrestle with suicidal thoughts.
“This IS normal,” Jeanise stressed. “A concept that many people buy into is that senior leaders and peers have not or do not struggle with these thoughts or issues. They do! Seeking help is normal; feeling overwhelmed and alone at times is normal. Your life is worth living and you are important.”
If you know anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide, Kennedy encourages becoming an ally.
“Reassure the individual of your genuine interest in their well-being and, more than anything, LISTEN,” Kennedy said. “There is no universal message that can work the same for every at-risk individual, but what can work is taking the time to listen to their conflicts and reassure the individual that they matter.”
“If you know someone who you think is struggling, intervene!” Jeanise said. “Asking about suicide feels scary, and the thought of hearing a ‘yes’ is frightening, but intervention works. Change is often uncomfortable and can feel unsettling, but it is temporary. I ask every person to challenge the stigmas they face every day. Asking one question could literally change the course of someone’s life.”
To learn more about ASAP Suicide Prevention training, visit https://military.agrilife.org/files/2021/03/ASAP-Suicide-Prevention-Training_2021_022521.pdf
(Author’s editorial endorsement for counseling: I, the writer of this article, have struggled with thoughts of suicide and reached out for help several times. It was amazing, and talking things through really put me in a better frame of mind! Please do it if you’re going through a hard time.)