August 29, 2014, PEARL HARBOR (NNS) – Starting in September the Navy will be promoting the message “Every Sailor, Every Day,” to encourage all Sailors, leaders, families and members of the Navy community to strengthen their connections with those around them in accordance with Suicide Prevention Month.
Unfortunately, suicide is currently one of the top causes of death in the Navy, claiming the lives of approximately 44 Sailors in 2013 alone and, according to Navy Personnel Command, 39 lives so far in 2014.
While these statistics suggest a decrease in frequency of total suicide fatalities from previous years, the numbers show that some Sailors are still finding themselves with nowhere to go and no other option.
In an organization that requires the cooperation and unity of every Sailor to accomplish its mission, one suicide is one too many.
So, how do we keep moving forward?
According to Lt. David Broderick, a psychologist at Makalapa Mental Health Clinic Pearl Harbor, in addition to the web of resources that target raising awareness, reduction and response to suicide, it is also increasingly important to “get ahead of the problem” and address the social challenges and stigmas that may lay at the crux of the issue.
“Efforts need to continue to be made towards de-stigmatizing and being more empathic about suicide so that the person asking for help doesn’t feel overwhelmed with asking for it,” said Broderick. “If people are hesitant to go and talk to their chain of command about feeling depressed or hopeless, because they worry their career might get affected, or because maybe they’re not yet at that point of really wanting to hurt themselves, then things can certainly end up escalating the longer they wait.”
Lt. James Ragain, a chaplain attached to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, echoed Broderick’s sentiments, saying there are a lot of social challenges and stigmas that come with suicide.
“For the person that may be having thoughts about suicide, there’s certainly the stigma of, ‘am I going to be seen as different?’ Or, ‘are people going to treat me as weak?,’ said Ragain. “And on the other end there’s the taboo of asking difficult questions about people’s lives and asking the question we’re trained to ask, ‘are you thinking about suicide?’ We may think that by asking this question this person may reject us and cost us a friendship.”
As Ragain described, the programs that are available work effectively to equip individuals with the know-how and insight to identify external indications and red flags, as well as providing help to those who need it, but, “oftentimes the tools can be like giving cough syrup to someone who needs an antibody. We need to get below the surface.”
“If they can’t open up to anyone, or if they don’t feel safe opening up to anyone, and no one is there to ask that clear and direct question, ‘are you thinking about suicide?,’ then the situation can certainly snowball out of their control,” said Ragain.
Lt. Cmdr. Kaarin Coe, a social worker and the Suicide Prevention Coordinator at Military and Family Support Center Pearl Harbor, said that while the task of asking a shipmate or co-worker if they are having thoughts of suicide or are in need professional help may seem daunting, it is important to keep in mind the Navy’s core values to intervene when something is out of place in the work place, as well as with those around us.
“The Navy’s greatest asset is their people,” said Coe. “Nothing moves, flies, or sails without someone at the helm – whatever form that may take. When we take care of each other, we ensure our Navy stays not only ‘Fit to Fight,’ but focused on the mission. When we get people support sooner rather than later, they are able to either maintain their ability to be mission focused, or return to duty faster than if they wait until there is a crisis. I believe this is the cornerstone of our core values.”
Ragain said to continue moving forward it is crucial that Sailors and individuals find the honor, courage and commitment to initiate early avenues of communication with those that may be showing signs of suicide.
“When someone starts that internal dialogue about suicide and they have someone they can talk with about what’s going on in their life, it lets them get everything out onto the table, and for a lot of people it’s like a huge weight’s been taken off their shoulders,” said Ragain. “For others, as they listen to themselves talk about suicide and about their issues, it’s almost like they convince themselves not to do it because they now have that connection with someone and they know they’re no longer alone.”
Because of this, it is imperative that Sailors and individuals remain perceptive to changes in behavior and attitude of someone who they may suspect is struggling emotionally, said Ragain.
“One thing that happens when people are thinking about suicide is they give out invitations to people, to connect with them and talk about their feelings,” said Ragain. “I use ‘invitations’ as opposed to ‘warning signs,’ because what they’re doing is inviting other people to talk about this major decision they’re going to make in their life. These invitations may come in the form of the things they say like, ‘there’s no hope for me, things will be better once I’m gone.’ Or as blatant as, ‘I’m going to kill myself.’ Invitations also come in the form of their appearance, or how they isolate themselves from other people.”
Coe said that anyone can become susceptible to suicidal thoughts, thus it becomes important that everyone recognize their role as a resource by remaining vigilant to the signs that may be out of the ordinary with their co-worker or shipmate.
“Being aware of changes in mood, demeanor, and behaviors are key in recognizing early that something may be going on,” said Coe. “Knowing the resources available can also help get someone to the support they need sooner.”
Once contact and communication is established, Sailors and individuals can then move on to subsequent resources that will work more directly to provide the support and help necessary.
At this stage in the Navy, Broderick suggested that commands continue to stress that Sailors seek help and resources.
“Commands need to continue stressing that and eventually people may find themselves more willing, or not as nervous, to seek help and go talk to someone,” said Broderick.
“The clinic is a place for everyone to come for outpatient treatment for whatever life stresses they may have going on,” said Broderick. “We offer therapy groups here to individuals with psychologists and social workers. We also have psychiatric nurse practitioners and psychiatrists available here to work on the medication aspect. Our mission is to get people back to work and to feel stronger about going back to work.”
But to accomplish this mission first requires one to make that uncomfortable effort and ask that difficult question, “are you thinking about suicide?”
It is only through increased empathetic and open communication that this can be achieved, said Coe.
“The more a difficult topic is discussed open and honestly, the more it breaks down the taboo/stigma. Recognizing that we all need help at different points in our lives is key.”
From September 1-30, “I Pledge to ACT,” a web-based effort, will take place to encourage all Sailors, families and members of the Navy community to take steps in building personal resilience, supporting their shipmates and intervening if they notice signs of distress. The pledge is completely anonymous and available to all audiences through the NPC website, www.public.navy.mil.
For more information about suicide prevention, visit
www.chaplain.navy.mil – Navy chaplains have 100 percent confidentiality and cannot break this without the person’s consent. If someone isn’t sure where to start, chaplains can also help someone figure out where they need to go for help.
www.militaryonesource.mil – Referrals are made to local community providers. Services are not connected to service record.
Or call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-TALK (option 1) or www.veteranscrisisline.net/activeduty.aspx for confidential support 24/7.