USPHS Lt. Cmdr. David Barry, DCoE clinical psychologist on June 26, 2012
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Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta addresses the audience at the fourth annual DoD/VA Suicide Prevention Conference June 22, 2012 in Washington, D.C. (DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)
We hear about suicide in the news, read about it on the Internet, and each of us in our own way work toward preventing the loss of lives. Rarely, do we get the opportunity to discuss suicide as a community. I was privileged to be able to attend and present at the fourth annual DoD/VA Suicide Prevention Conference. For me, it was a great opportunity to share my perspective on suicide prevention and to learn from leaders, service members and notable civilian organizations.
During the three-day conference, the secretaries for the Defense Department, Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Veteran Affairs voiced their concerns and future plan of attack to combat suicide. The secretaries spoke to the importance of ending suicides, providing quality programs and communicating suicide programs and research amongst departments, service branches, providers, peers and individuals.
Each speech resonated with me in different, yet meaningful ways. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s call for pioneering and breaking “new ground in understanding the human mind and human emotion” encouraged me to strive to further learn and participate in preventing suicides. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius inspired hope for our country as she spoke of removing “any distinction between behavioral and mental health.” As a substance abuse provider and subject matter expert, I was motivated and encouraged by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki’s call to target and prevent substance abuse as a means to prevent suicide and veteran homelessness.
Throughout the conference, speakers emphasized the point that suicide isn’t an isolated event, and it’s preventable. Valuable information to prevent suicides was integrated into a bountiful agenda. At times, it was difficult to choose which session to attend, since there were many intriguing breakout sessions. The sessions I attended, I found to be particularly informative and significant, such as the association of sleep and suicide discussion, skill-building exercises and breakouts focusing on the service member and their families. Numerous times throughout the conference, other attendees often remarked on the quality and utility of the presentations they attended.
I was fortunate to present on a topic dear to me, Substance Abuse Prevention: Reducing the Risk of Suicide. I highlighted the importance of engaging in substance misuse prevention as a means to reduce risk factors for suicide, while augmenting an individual’s protective factors. Attendees at my presentation were receptive and seemed very engaged in the topic. It was a rewarding moment for me to be able to support our service men and women, while contributing to a conference that’s making a difference within the military and civilian communities.
As a psychologist, provider and peer, I found it encouraging that there is a community of professionals and caregivers who are supported by their upper echelon of leadership and are committed to eliminating suicide. I wasn’t only inspired and motivated, but also reassured that the services, Defense Department and civilian leaders are working harder than ever toward improving the lives of those who’ve served our country in uniform. The participation of senior leaders, senior military enlisted, and many other distinguished speakers made this year’s suicide prevention conference not only informative, but unprecedented and historic.