Maryland hopes free online course for doctors can reduce suicide among veterans

Maryland has some 350,000 veterans, 30,000 active-duty service members and 18,000 Reservists/National Guard members; primary care doctors have a lot of patients who are serving or have served in the military.

That’s why the state hopes offering training to those doctors and their staff can play a pivotal role in reducing suicide among military members and their family.

The Maryland Department of Health is offering that specialized training through a free online course called the Trained Military Assistance Provider (TMAP) Program.

Of military members who have attempted suicide nationwide, 45% of people who died by suicide saw their health care provider the month prior to the attempt, according to the National Library of Medicine.

“So it’s really important to equip our medical providers with the tools they need to really address behavioral health concerns during their medical visits,” said Joy Ashcraft, director of Maryland’s Commitment to Veterans.

For some military members, seeking help when experiencing depression and other mental health issues, is not an easy decision. For veterans, there can be a fear of losing security clearances or the ability to keep their job or rank. There is even a deep-seated belief that wounds that cannot be seen should be handled by themselves.

It is barriers such as these that have made suicide such a serious problem among military members.

Ashcraft said the program gives civilian doctors and their employees a better understanding of military culture and provides tips for approaching the sensitive topic of mental health with the veterans they care for.

“What are unique factors to look into when you’re working with someone who’s military veteran connected? How to do evidence-based safety planning with the individual, how to have those conversations about lethal means safety. Because we do know that in the military and veteran community, firearms are the No. 1 means for use,” Ashcraft said.

Lethal means safety in suicide involves making a method less available and less likely to cause death in a suicide attempt, according to the Defense Department.

Ashcraft said one of the lessons discusses ways to talk to a patient about storing keys to a gun elsewhere, and the state will even send cable locks for guns, which can be given out to those who complete the course.

The state will designate providers who complete the course as “Trained Military Assistance Providers.” Ashcraft said what is learned can be used when helping nonmilitary patients, as well.

“What is learned through it can be used with anyone, so when you’re looking at learning about safety planning, and you’re learning about how to have conversations about lethal means safety, you can use that with anyone,” Ashcraft said. “It translates to police officers, other first responders, teachers.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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