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CNO Adm. Gilday: Small Steps Save Lives

By Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday

September is Suicide Prevention Month, and while we should talk about this subject year-round, it is important to me that we have a frank conversation about this right now.

Suicide is a tragedy that extends beyond individual Sailors. Every death by suicide — whether it be uniformed Sailors, Navy Civilians, or families — affects our entire Navy family, and it is extremely troubling to me that suicide continues to be a leading cause of death in our Navy. 

We all go through challenges and stressors that can be difficult to talk about… But no one should feel so isolated or overwhelmed by events that they consider suicide.

That is why it is important that we talk to our shipmates … really talk to them.  Ask them how they’re doing and actively listen. Talking about our challenges, whether they’re operational, social, or psychological, is one small act we can do every day to make all of us better. It fosters a climate of trust and encourages Sailors to ask for help in their time of need. 

We must build that trust up and down the chain of command to ensure Sailors feel comfortable reaching out to their leadership and shipmates. 

Let me be clear. There cannot be BYSTANDERS in our Navy. That is why it’s so important that WE ALL take the time to look for potential warning signs. We need all hands on deck for this.

Right now, in your division, your department or your command, there is someone that needs your help, who is struggling with stress or having thoughts of suicide.

Sometimes the signs are verbal, like a Sailor casually saying that they feel like they have no purpose or feel as though they don’t belong. There may also be behavioral signs, like increased alcohol use or other substance misuse, withdrawing from usual activities, or uncharacteristic rage or anger. 

Look closely for these signs when your shipmate is experiencing a combination of multiple stressors, including:

  • Relationship problems
  • Personal or professional loss
  • Recent career transitions
  • Disciplinary / legal issues and financial strain
  • The harmful effects of prolonged stress and chronic sleep deprivation

With many suicides, shipmates saw signs of distress but weren’t able to recognize them as indicators of suicide risk. Trust your gut and ACT (Ask, Care, Treat). Use intrusive leadership, look your shipmates in the eyes, and ask, “Are you okay?” 

I expect our leaders to build and support Command Resilience Teams. Along with suicide prevention coordinators, use your chaplains and embedded mental health providers. I want our leaders to set a tone within their commands where Sailors feel comfortable and have the courage to ask for help without fear of judgement or consequences. That way when Sailors do seek help, they do so confidently, knowing they’ll receive the support and resources they need.

While we have strengthened our efforts through initiatives like “Every Sailor Every Day,” along with the Sailor Assistance and Intercept for Life program, or SAIL, we have to sustain momentum beyond a singular conversation, momentary action or the creation of a new policy.

Help is always available. Call the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), Military Crisis Line or text 838255 for free confidential support 24/7.

Be there for every Sailor, every day.

NORFOLK (Sept. 13, 2019) Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Paul Kopel and Peg Smith, health promotions staff members at the Branch Health Clinic (BHC) at Naval Station Norfolk, set up a display of 79 pairs of boots to remember the 79 Sailors who were lost to suicide in 2018 and to raise awareness for suicide prevention. “Have you seen the boots?” is an initiative to identify and remember Sailors lost to suicide and to identify what the Navy community is missing when it comes to this tragedy. (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Imani N. Daniels/Released) poyrazdogany