Technology in the Desert and in Suicide Prevention

Posted on December 26,2013 by jeanc2013

The Holiday Season can be a lonely time of year, especially for people deployed in austere environments for the sake of patriotism and selfless duty.

It's particularly important around the Holidays for these military members to stay connected with Family and friends through any means available. It can be a real challenge though. Internet can be spotty in a deployed environment.

Did you know that when the worst case scenario happens, and a deployed military member or civilian is wounded or killed in action, on-base phone and internet service is shut-down altogether until the next of kin is notified back home? It is the right thing to do to maintain order and dignity for the victim and his/her Family, and it can, unfortunately, take hours and, sometimes, an entire day to accomplish. It can be stressful and scary for other Families at home if a phone or internet chat has been scheduled with their loved one for a specific time, and the deployed person is unable to connect because of the "COMMS" shut-down all over base.

Further, many service members do not have regular access to a work computer, so they rely on provided resources such as those at the USO or the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) facilities. These are wonderful resources that are probably the greatest morale-boosters available.

Others have access to the Wi-Fi that is freely provided at many military outposts. This allows fathers-to-be to witness the birth of their child via Skype; a mother to get to watch her daughter's ballet recital via Face Time; or personnel to experience any number of other life events that were virtually impossible to keep up with even 10 years ago. We can thank technology for families staying more connected than ever before with their deployed loved ones.

Technology can now make a significant impact in reducing suicide as well. I recently read an article in Psychology Today (December 2013) about technology that is actually able to use Facebook comments and preferences to identify individuals who may be on the brink of suicidal thoughts and/or tendencies. Military members are the prime focus in this initiative for now, which could prove an incredible tool to prevent suicide. Hopefully, psych practitioners can continue to leverage social media in other ways that can benefit the mental health of those who we may not realize are struggling.

Jean Chambers
Director, MWR / Garrison Protocol
USFOR-A Garrison Leatherneck