HELENA — Montana is in the top five states in the nation for rates of death by suicide per capita, and Fort Harrison is trying to help prevent deaths with ASIST training.
“People are the greatest resource for the National Guard and life in general, and I just want to make sure that I’m able to help and serve the people that I lead,” said Lieutenant Colonel Jason Steichen, an attendee of the training.
ASIST stands for Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, which is a “program that teaches participants how to assist those at risk for suicide,” according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center says that participants “identify persons with thoughts of suicide, seek a shared understanding of reasons for dying and living, develop a safe plan based upon a review of risk, be prepared to do follow-up, and become involved in suicide-safer community networks.”
Steichen is the commander of the 83rd Civil Support Team, which is a team of 22 airmen and soldiers who are hazmat technicians who respond to incidents with weapons of mass destruction.
He said, “I’m a member of the Montana National Guard Association, and just trends over the past few years, I’ll see some reports nationwide, and suicide is one of the highest reported causes of death.”
Montana is second in the nation for highest suicide rates and has been in the top five for the past 40 years.
Five out of twenty veterans have thoughts of suicide.
“I hope that they just learn to recognize the signs so that we can catch it upstream so that we don’t have to deal with an attempt,” Cherri Schmaus is a contracted Risk Reduction Coordinator who has worked with the Army National Guard for the last decade.
She has seen the effects of ASIST training.
“One of his children had actually attempted suicide a few days previous and he gave kudos to this ASIST class that he took a couple of years ago to actually helping save his child’s life,” said Schmaus.
The Montana Army National Guard averages one suicide per year, and in 2020, there were five.
Schmaus said, “In Montana, we have the cowboy up mentality. We don’t want to share our issues. The army motto is “be all that you can be,” and our goal is to reduce the stigma so that they will use all the resources that they have because they have so many available.”
While the class is taught at Fort Harrison, the civilian population can participate.
“The responsibility that I have as a leader and caring about everybody, not only on my team but other soldiers and airmen. I just want to be there for them. I’m here to serve,” Steichen said.
If you or someone you know is in need of immediate assistance, the suicide prevention lifeline is 988.