New Fort Meade suicide prevention program manager targets civilians
Soundoff!, Laurel, Md.
Marissa Pena said many people would be surprised to know the positive impact a kind word can make in the day of a soldier.
Pena, the garrison's new Suicide Prevention Program manager, said that in her job as a social worker serving military personnel, several of her clients have told her they were contemplating suicide but changed their mind when a stranger showed concern.
"We don't know how many soldiers' lives we have touched when we are just being nice," said Pena, who has been a social worker for 14 years. "It just takes five to 10 minutes of someone's day to say 'How are you?' "
Pena, who works at the Army Substance Abuse Program, said such small gestures can be part of a larger strategy to reduce suicide among service members at Fort Meade.
Last year, three service members who were affiliated with Fort Meade committed suicide, according to the Installation Management Command.
In her new position, Pena will coordinate ASAP's free monthly Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training for service members, civilians, retirees, contractors and family members. She also will coordinate outreach and education efforts to prevent suicide.
ASIST is a two-day workshop that helps participants learn the skills to identify people at risk for suicide, and how to better listen to and care for people who are having thoughts of suicide. The workshop features group exercises and discussions, and videos on suicide intervention.
Living Works Education, a suicide intervention company based in Fayetteville, N.C., produces the curriculum for the training and considers the workshop to be suicide first aid. Funding is provided by the Department of the Army.
Prior to assuming her new position, Pena had worked as a licensed social worker and licensed chemical dependency counselor at ASAP for a year.
Before coming to Fort Meade, Pena worked for two years as a substance abuse counselor at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Pena volunteered to coordinate an ASIST Train-the-Trainer session that was held in August at Fort Meade. Twenty noncommissioned officers and two civilians participated in the five-day course. They are now provisional master trainers and are expected to lead three ASIST workshops to attain full certification as master trainers.
"Due to her excellent organizational skills and her desire to create a world-class suicide prevention program, I laterally transferred her to the Suicide Prevention Program manager position," said Michael Noyes, chief of ASAP.
Noyes said his goal is to focus on a holistic approach to suicide prevention, increase the community's awareness of suicide prevention and provide intervention techniques and skills.
Pena said ASAP also plans to increase the number of civilians who participate in ASIST. She said it is important for civilians to learn how to recognize the warning signs of someone contemplating suicide because the risk affects many of their peers, particularly with the impact of the shutdown of the federal government.
"We want civilians to know we are here for them, too," she said.
Pena was born in Philadelphia and later moved to Texas with her family.
She earned her bachelor's degree in social work in 2000 from West Texas A&M University and a master's degree in social work from New Mexico Highlands University in 2005.
Her experience ranges from counseling at-risk youths with substance abuse issues to service members with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Pena said providing quality mental-health care, and substance abuse and suicide prevention services to military personnel should be a priority.
"They risk their lives for us," she said. "We owe it to them to give them the best services and treatment possible without having to feel the shame of stigma [of experiencing mental health issues] or [the] threat to their career."
Pena plans to complete the ASIST Train-the-Trainer program in the near future.
"I feel pretty great," she said. "I can reach more people this way."
Editor's note: ASIST is being offered today from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the 6th Cavalry Chapel. The next session will be held Nov. 20-21 at the same time and location. Participation in the full two days is required, along with pre-registration. To participate, call Pena at 301-677-7901 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.