While the military services deal year-round with the issue of suicides among their ranks, the beginning of the new year is a time to be even more vigilant, according to experts.

The greater risk for suicides is not during the holidays, but just after them, said Hanau Chaplain (Lt. Col.) John Aupke in a recent release.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, seasons have more of an effect on suicide rates than individual holidays. On average, suicide rates begin to climb in January, with the highest rates recorded in April, June and July.

Many chaplain offices offer Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, a year-round program that aims to increase awareness of the problem and offer guidance on how to help a suicidal person.

ASIST is recommended for all unit leaders, supervisors, health professionals and family readiness group leaders.

Pam Rustin, clinical director for Wiesbaden’s Army substance abuse program, completed the program and is a certified ASIST trainer.

“In the class that I was in, there were teachers, there were secretaries [and] bank tellers,” she said. “What is really most helpful is for people to understand that you don’t need to be a health care provider to be available to somebody who may be thinking about suicide.”

Preventing suicides downrange prompted the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, to send a mental health assessment team to promote suicide awareness and counsel troops who may be dealing with depression and anxiety. As of Dec. 18, 13 servicemembers serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom have died as a result of suicide, according to Department of Defense statistics. During the 1990s, 803 soldiers took their own lives.

As for bases on the home front, the ASIST program is a way for anyone to help a depressed friend, co-worker or soldier who may be preparing for or returning from deployment, Rustin said.

“Most of the time [people who are suicidal] really want to live, they don’t really want to die,” Rustin said. “It doesn’t take a clinician to be able to see that someone is not their usual self.”

For more information on ASIST and where it is offered, contact the base chaplain’s office.

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