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Hospital Happenings

News | Sept. 23, 2022

BJACH Soldiers Prepared to ask tough questions regarding Suicide

By Jean Graves

Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital along with units from across the installation sent 18 Soldiers to the Applied Suicide Intervention (ASIST) and safeTALK facilitator course September 13-16 held at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, Louisiana.

According to these Soldiers are now skilled, supportive trainers who will guide others through the safeTALK workshops. The workshops are designed to help others learn how to recognize when someone is thinking about suicide and connect them to an intervention provider such as an ASIST trainee. The goal is to build a safety network around intervention providers and increase their reach and impact to prevent suicide.

Christa Zayas, suicide prevention for JRTC and Fort Polk, said we should discuss suicide prevention year-round, not just in September.

“I encourage everyone to take the time to reach out to a friend, coworker or family member to see how they are really doing,” she said. “You'd be amazed how just randomly reaching out and checking in on someone can make a difference in their life. You may be intervening and not even know it.”

Zayas said safeTALK stands for suicide “Suicide alertness for everyone; Tell, Ask, Listen, Keep Safe, and it is creating a suicide-safe community at Fort Polk.

“The training brings awareness to the topic and teaches soldiers and civilians how to identify someone who may be struggling with suicide,” she said. “Once they are aware they can get them to the help they need. The more awareness there is the better chance we have to save a life before it is taken by suicide.”

Zayas said the students trained in the facilitator course will be equipped to teach the four-hour, face-to-face safeTALK workshop offered weekly during in-processing and upon request.

“I hope through this initiative we can destigmatize discussing suicide and make it easier to talk about,” she said. “There are a lot of myths that surround suicide and the only way we will be able to change them is by having open, honest and direct conversations about the topic. SafeTALK training brings another level of awareness about suicide and opens the door for those tough conversations to be had.”

After last week’s training, BJACH has nine certified safeTALK facilitators who can support the installation and the organization.

Capt. James Walker, hospital chaplain, attended the training and learned to identify and effectively communicate with someone having suicidal thoughts.

“Unintentionally, we may fail to miss, dismiss, or avoid what our peers are trying to communicate,” he said, “Through this training, we become more perceptive to what those who are considering suicide are trying to communicate with us.”

Walker said having safeTALK trainers at BJACH is crucial.

“It's important to have trainers at BJACH because we need helpers who are comfortable talking about suicide,” he said. “This program is for people to build confidence in having open and direct conversations about suicide and connecting them with a caregiver.”

Walker said one in every 20 people are considering suicide.

“I believe the main goal of this training is to let those who are suffering know that someone cares for them,” he said. “We all need to be reminded that anyone could have thoughts of suicide, and everyone can learn how to help.”

Lt. Col. Alexander Ragan, installation director of psychological health, said training was beneficial to him.

“It helps sustain or improve the confidence to be curious when concerned about someone and ways to ask important clarifying questions such as:
Are you suicidal? And to be present and available if they say, yes,” he said. “It also helps us realize how approachable or unapproachable we are based on our biases as well as our verbal and non-verbal communication to someone that is suicidal.”

Ragan said talking about suicide is important.

“September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month,” he said. “It is always important to take a tactical pause and review the past to see what we’ve done to address suicide. Then look to the future and determine what strategies we can improve on; look at the present and be self-aware of how we are doing and reset.”

Ragan said having safeTALK trainers at BJACH is essential to the hospital’s mission.

“At BJACH we are here to help our community be purposefully present and situationally aware of the behavioral ‘tells’ that cause us to be concerned and have the tools necessary to address it in the moment,” he said.

Editor’s Note: To schedule safeTALK training for your organization, contact the Fort Polk Suicide Prevention Program Manager at 337-531-6787 or
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