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Category Archives: Suicide Prevention Month

What We Do Is Hard; It’s OK to Ask for Help

By Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell Smith

Suicide is one of the most complex problems we face, one that has a tremendously detrimental effect on our Navy—and one that, as a self-inflicted casualty, is preventable. We’ve tragically lost Sailors, our teammates and friends, who felt that the only option they had left was a terrible one—one that ended their pain, and yet in doing so inflicted a heavy and interminable burden of confusion and sadness on those of us who remained behind.  

To paint suicide as a simple and straightforward issue would be a gross oversimplification; there are many, disparate reasons someone may make that decision for themselves. Short-term issues that seem insurmountable, or longer-term feelings of loneliness, not belonging or being wanted can make suicide seem like an attractive option. Chronic pain or a perceived hopelessness that makes fighting for a better tomorrow seem futile, perhaps seeking to unburden loved ones or escape from a painful situation. To the one suffering, it’s difficult to understand the actual impacts for those destined to live with a chasm in our hearts, in our units and in our lives—with unanswered questions and a long list of “what ifs.” That is equally difficult.     

So while there may not be one simple reason that we can pursue, we need to do something to change our culture and address this issue in a more substantive way. Feelings of depression and self-harm do not respect rank, and factors like financial health or a lofty leadership title does nothing to inoculate against the ache of loneliness or living in a state of desolation. Hopelessness can stalk anyone, whether they live in the heart of a major city, are stationed on a destroyer or serve in a remote or austere location. We cannot take for granted, based on anything other than a conversation and how we interact with each other, that someone is “ok”—despite appearing to have everything going for them—just as we cannot ignore someone who is clearly struggling with the circumstances of their life. Most of us will find ourselves at risk at some point in our lives, and it is in those moments when we need to connect that a connection must be made.

One common thread seems to be clear: Connecting to one another in meaningful ways works against feelings central to wanting to leave unexpectedly. Finding ways to check on each other—not like you’re fulfilling the day’s errands but in a truly authentic and meaningful way—is a great start. Embracing our shipmates as needed and beloved members of our Navy family: that is something you and I can do, or continue to do, in order to really make a difference. Talk to your Sailors, but also talk to your boss. The burden of leadership can often be a heavy one; it’s ok to ask your boss how she or he is doing, because we all should be genuinely concerned for the welfare of the team, senior and junior alike.  

Share your strength, and draw strength from your shipmates. Reinforce those concepts that our teams rely on as binding elements—trust, honesty, transparency and compassion—which will engender a sense of belonging that will combat the dangerous feelings of isolation. Our Sailors must be reminded, and must know through and through, that we don’t just care for each other; no, we rely on absolutely and need each other to face the rigors of combat, to survive and return home to our loved ones. 

We each swore an oath to face the many determined enemies of our American way of life, and they are indeed formidable. For the Sailor who may be in that place of loneliness, I tell you, shipmate, that I have been you—as many have been, whether they will admit it or not. I would implore you to consider how much your family and your friends need you, and just as importantly how much your shipmates need you in the days, weeks and years to come. 

War will continue to challenge us, and not everyone who sails into battle will survive; you may be the reason that a ship returns victorious, or a squadron returns stateside as a complete unit. You could be the reason a submarine was able to navigate home after conducting a harrowing mission that, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, was never there. You are needed, you are necessary, and I hope all of us can stand together to face whatever comes next. What we do is hard; it’s ok not to be ok, but it’s not ok not to ask for help. If you’re not in a great place, come to us and let us help you get back to a mindset where you can again take your place in the fight.

As your shipmates, we will be looking for you, but you don’t have to wait for us to discern that you are the one who must take a knee for a time. Help us, so we can help you, and then we will get after the enemy—together. poyrazdogany

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

Suicide Prevention Takes One Small Act to Save a Life

From U.S. Pacific Fleet Public Affairs

This week, we talked with Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adm. Scott Swift and Fleet Master Chief Suz Whitman to discuss suicide prevention, the need to create a resilient workforce and eliminate barriers that prevent Sailors from seeking help.

“September is Suicide Prevention Month, but suicide prevention is a year-round mission, one in which all of us as shipmates have a role to play to eliminate suicide from our ranks and eliminate the barriers that prevent Sailors from seeking help.”
– Adm. Scott Swift
Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet

Adm. Swift:

Pacific Fleet Sailors and civilian Sailors, the first principle of my commander’s intent is for us to preserve a resilient workforce. A key to that is rejecting behaviors that place individuals at risk.

September is Suicide Prevention Month, but suicide prevention is a year-round mission, one in which all of us as shipmates have a role to play to eliminate suicide from our ranks and eliminate the barriers that prevent Sailors from seeking help.

Suicide risk reduction is tied to our general resilience efforts, such as maintaining healthy relationships, ensuring Sailors have a sense of belonging, cultivating healthy personal and professional goals, developing coping skills to more effectively manage stress, and timely intervention for persons at risk.

Examination of previous suicides has taught us that common risk factors such as relationship problems, career disruptions like legal problems or professional setbacks, and periods of transitions can all be contributors to someone making a destructive choice. In many cases, these leading indicators, or portions of them, were known by shipmates, but we were not able to connect the dots before a crisis occurred.

Toughness – the ability to resist being overcome by stress – and resilience – the ability to recover from struggles or setbacks – are part of our Navy heritage. They are essential to our mental, emotional and spiritual fitness. And just as with physical fitness, the key to being in optimal condition is through practice and preventive efforts.

Fleet Master Chief Whitman:

Chaplains, Fleet and Family Services, and embedded mental health programs can help you to develop good practices for your mental, emotional and spiritual fitness – so that when you experience difficult circumstances you will be prepared to handle them. Most importantly, if you find yourself contemplating suicide, please ask for help.

When it comes to suicide prevention, we are all leaders and we must look out for one another to recognize people at risk and have the courage to ask them if they are having thoughts of suicide or wanting to die.

Words matter. Anyone, regardless of rank may need help from time-to-time. It is important that we convey in our words and our actions that we’ll be there when you need us. Make words like “Every Sailor, Every Day”, “1 Small ACT”, and #BeThere be more than just campaign slogans, make them a part of our culture.

Adm. Swift:

If a fellow Sailor appears to be in need of help, reach out and help them. It’s what shipmates do. It only takes one small act to save a life. U.S. Navy

Suicide Prevention Month – Every Sailor, Every Day Starts With You

By Chief of Naval Personnel Public Affairs

With September marking Suicide Prevention Month, it’s an important time to have the conversation that could make a difference, share different ideas and learn about the valuable resources that will help the Navy continue the fight in preventing suicide year-round.

Since the launch of the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign and the “1 Small ACT” message, Navy’s Suicide Prevention Office, OPNAV N171 has seen outstanding participation across the fleet in sharing the simple every day actions that can save lives.

Suicide Prevention AwarenessThis year, that message is going even further and we want your help to continue to make this a success in reaching the entire Navy.

We’re asking you to share an example of how you will be there for yourself or for others. What will you do to strengthen your psychological, physical and emotional health? Please go to our 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery to get the details on participating, and check out the photos on the U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control Facebook page at

1 Small Act Photo Gallery

Just as this month is important to focus on individual self-care practices, it’s also critical to learn from others on what worked for them and how we can use it to build the strength to seek help, when we need it.

We spoke with the 21st Century Sailor Office Director, Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt, on what can be done to look out for others and to get a preview of her 1 Small Act message.

Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt describes how to look out for others in need and shares what’s she’s going to do for her 1 Small Act.

Stress can impact anyone. Solutions come in the form of everything from self-care to seeking help from professionals. It starts with a conversation, with yourself, with others, and with everyone at your command.

For more help in generating the conversation at your command, use the latest resources from the Suicide Prevention branch. Get Involved

The Military Crisis Line offers confidential support for active duty and reserve service members and their families 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at or send a text message to 838255. U.S. Navy