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Peer Support Network Ignites Calls for Expansion

Suicide Prevention

Suicide Prevention

WASHINGTON D.C. -- A warfighter contemplating suicide may be helped by talking with a comrade who understands military service and its stresses, the Defense Suicide Prevention Office has found.

As the military community marks Suicide Awareness Month, Vets4Warriors, DoD's peer-to-peer counseling hotline, has proven so successful that the United States Special Operations Command, the unified command for the worldwide use of Special Operations elements of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, has just signed up for a new pilot project with the office based on this approach.

Peer support network a recipe for success

"It's really powerful when you get peers on the phone with each other," Jackie Garrick, director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office in Arlington, Virginia, recently told Health.mil. "They really do a good job of supporting each other, of being able to talk through things and solve problems ... Peers have been there - they've been deployed. They've been in uniform."
Garrick said the new pilot project involves embedding counselors in 30 different U.S. Special Operations Command locations. "We will train the peers using the same model we use in the call centers," she said.

"Peer support is a pretty well proven model," she added. "It's been used in other organizations ... There's a lot of history with peer support in police and fire support rescue and in other caregiver, survivor contexts."

The Vets4Warriors hotline provides active duty, National Guard and reserve service members, transitioning retirees and military families worldwide with free, confidential toll-free service around the clock, seven days a week.

"We won't turn anybody away," Garrick said. "If somebody needs help, we do our best to make sure that they get [it]."

For acute crises, warfighters and their families can also call the Military Crisis Line anytime at 1-800-273-8255. Launched in 2007, the crisis line also provides free confidential support and is staffed by trained responders from the Department of Veterans Affairs who are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They can also be reached via online chat and text message options - just visit www.militarycrisisline.net or text 838255.

One conversation can save a life

The finding by DSPO that peer counseling is key to helping potentially suicidal service members is also highlighted by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs theme for the month: the "Power of 1" awareness campaign - a public service initiative based on the idea that it takes just one person reaching out to someone else to save a life.

"One conversation - one text, one chat, one call, one question, one act - can save a life," said Garrick. Vets4Warriors is a key way to seek out that one touch when a warfighter doesn't want a face-to-face conversation but would rather get help privately.

The Vets4Warriors call center, which is based at Rutgers University in New Jersey, is staffed by veterans and family members - including a few female military spouses - representing all branches of the services. Advised by trained clinicians, they help service members grapple with all kinds of challenges.

Peer support focuses on many issues from needing a mental health referral to getting financial planning advice to connecting with child care, said Garrick.

"I call it resilience case management, because it's not a medical program, but rather a resilience-building program," she said. What's more, it's immediate and accessible.

"You're calling going, 'Hey, I want to talk to somebody else who's been through what I've been through,'" said Garrick. "You don't have to say 'I'm stressed out' or 'I have depression' or 'I can't sleep.'"

You can connect with them via telephone (1-855-838-8255), online chat (visit Vets4Warriors.com), or e-mail (Info@Vets4Warriors.com).