Some decisions can’t be reversed, can loom over loved ones like a dark thundercloud, and can have a devastating effect on the decision-makers, their families and the Navy’s culture.
Last year, 75 Sailors made the irreversible decision to take their own lives. In the Southeast Region alone, there were 393 suicide related behaviors, 58 suicide attempts and 18 suicide deaths.
As a means to recognize the impact these decisions have made, Commander, Navy Region Southeast (CNRSE) Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar signed a proclamation observing Suicide Awareness Month and continuing CNRSE’s commitment to suicide prevention.
Every year, the Navy sets aside September to emphasize suicide prevention, but it’s a year-round effort.
“In our proclamation, we note that suicide prevention is not just a once a year or one-month thing,” Southeast Regional Chaplain Capt. Daniel Stallard said. “It’s every Sailor, every day. That really is the important thing about prevention of any kind of destructive behavior. “
All Navy personnel are trained to intervene in the case of a shipmate displaying suicide related behavior. The Navy uses the acronym ACT (act, care, treat) to encourage Sailors to help save a life.
“The prevalence of suicide is a call to action,” Stallard said. “ACT is a nice device to help us think about asking the question, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ We need to be direct. We need to be able to have the discussion, but we have to know the symptoms and signs of suicide. Then we care and, because we care, we ask. When we find out a shipmate or family member needs help, we take action.”
The proclamation encourages loved ones, leaders, peers, friends and shipmates to exercise ACT when a Sailor shows signs of distress.
Each September, Navy Suicide Prevention Branch releases new resources to encourage Sailors to have the conversation regarding suicide prevention, recognize the warning signs and motivate Sailors to make small ACTs to prevent suicide.
This year, the branch’s Every Sailor Everyday campaign will be introducing new educational material, as well as new tools and resources for gatekeepers, leaders, command resilience team members and families.
There is a stigma in the military that asking for help regarding suicide related behavior is a sign of weakness. However, Stallard believes the contrary.
“The stigma of getting help for mental health problems is real,” Stallard said. “It looks like a sign of weakness, but actually getting help is a sign of strength. It’s a sign inside of you that you have the fortitude and attitude to ask for help. Not asking for help is really a weakness.”
This negative stigma suggests that if a service member reaches out for help, it could result in a loss of security clearance and/or have an adverse effect on their career goals.
“It will not effect your career as long as long as you’re able to work,” Stallard said. “Your clearance will not be in jeopardy. Your job will not be in jeopardy as long as you didn’t violate the uniform code of military justice. If someone reaches out and gets help, recovers and bounces back, there should be no effect on his or her career.”
Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson has launched an initiative called A Culture of Excellence.
This initiative is an effort to prevent the onset of destructive behaviors by mobilizing a multi-pronged approach to reinforce the Navy’s Warrior Ethos and objectives of a: (1) Safe Navy, (2) Partner of Choice, and (3) a Most Lethal Force to any adversary.
At the installation level, Comman-der, Naval Installation Command Vice Adm. Mary Jackson has initiated a program called Strategizing and Collaborating on Prevention Efforts. This program falls in line with the CNO’s initiative in that it focuses on strengthening individuals – whether it be psychologically or physically – in order to prevent negative outcomes.
Destructive behaviors continue to impact the Navy’s mission and have a devastating effect. Asking for help is not a career killer. It is a sign of strength and resilience.
“ I want to encourage people to look beyond the stigma and say, ‘Hey, I need help,’” Stallard said.
The Military Crisis Line offers confidential support for active duty and reserve service members and their families 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call (800) 273-8255 and press 1, chat online at www.militarycrisisline.net, or send a text message to 838255.