SAN ANTONIO — Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service is collaborating with Joint Base San Antonio, or JBSA, to deliver the message of suicide awareness and prevention during the month of September.
To formalize this effort, leaders from different branches of the military, AgriLife Extension Service representatives and military and civilian personnel met Sept. 3 at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio to attend a proclamation signing event declaring September as Suicide Prevention Month.
“Suicide does not discriminate — it can affect anyone,” said Brig. Gen. Laura Lenderman, commander of the 502d Air Base Wing and Joint Base San Antonio, in her remarks to attendees at the signing. “As a military, we need to cultivate workplaces that enable people to connect during the high and low times, and, if needed, allow people to seek help more openly.”
Small Steps to Save Lives
Lenderman emphasized the importance of taking “small steps” toward getting people to talk about suicide, as well as listening to and offering to help those they feel may be at risk.
Sabine Ward, an AgriLife Extension agent who serves as suicide prevention program manager at Fort Sam Houston, helped coordinate the “Small Steps Save Lives” proclamation signing and other suicide awareness and prevention efforts at the base.
“The purpose of this proclamation and other activities this month is to make people more aware of the emotional, physical and financial pressures that can lead to suicide, and to let them know that even taking a small step in reaching out to a person in distress can make a real difference,” Ward said. “We also want to spread the word about the people and resources available for suicide prevention.”
To demonstrate its importance throughout the military, Lenderman and other high-ranking military leaders representing different branches of service signed the proclamation. Other signers included Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, USA, Commander, U.S. Army North; Rear Adm. Tina Davidson, Navy, Commander, Navy Medicine Education, Training and Logistics Command; Lt. Col. Chad Humphrey, USMC, Office in Charge, Wounded Warrior Battalion East; and Commander Libby Rasmussen, USCG, Department of Homeland Security, Joint Task Force-West.
Extending a hand to help
As the educational outreach agency of the Texas A&M University System, AgriLife Extension is involved in various educational initiatives related to individual and community health and wellness. As suicide is a serious health problem that affects individuals, families and the community, including the military community, AgriLife Extension is helping provide the people and resources needed to support suicide awareness and prevention efforts at Fort Sam Houston.
AgriLife Extension, through a U.S. Department of Agriculture – National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant with JBSA Fort Sam Houston, provides substance abuse and suicide prevention education to service members, military families and Department of Defense civilians within the JBSA community. AgriLife Extension agents are officed at the installation to provide educational programming as part of the Army Substance Abuse Program.
“To my knowledge, we are the only land-grant institution that has Extension personnel on-site at any military installation in the U.S., so this puts us in a unique position to help spread awareness of such an important topic,” said Rachel Brauner, AgriLife Extension specialist for family and community health, College Station, and principal investigator on the JBSA Fort Sam Houston prevention project.
“We want to help change how we communicate with people about suicide and reduce the stigma often associated with talking about suicide,” said Alicia Cline, an AgriLife Extension agent who serves as the risk reduction program coordinator for JBSA Fort Sam Houston.
Cline said a goal of these efforts being carried out through September is to offer information on ways people can find help to offset the “triggers” that lead to suicidal ideation.
“We want to intervene and get others to intervene when they see someone they feel is in distress,” she said. “Some of the main triggers for suicide are depression, financial pressures and physical illness. To help people address these issues before they become too overwhelming, we are initiating resilience programs to help military members struggling with those issues that can lead to suicide. We hope this will be able to reduce or eliminate some of the risk factors for suicide.”
Ward noted additional suicide awareness and prevention activities for JBSA Fort Sam Houston will include putting suicide awareness messaging on the marquee at the entrance of the installation and providing substance abuse and suicide awareness training to military and civilian personnel at the base.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides guidelines to help someone who may be thinking about committing suicide.
To reach SAMHSA’s National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).