Navy Program Reduces Sailors' Stress

Story Number: NNS091211-23Release Date: 12/11/2009 4:18:00 PM
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By Ian Graham, Special to the American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The coordinator of the U.S. Navy's Operational Stress Control (OSC) Program and Navy's Behavioral Health program manager for Navy Suicide Prevention and OSC policies, spoke to bloggers during a DoDLive Blogger's Roundtable Dec. 10 about the mental health issues.

Capt. Lori A. Laraway, OSC Program coordinator and Lt. Cmdr. Bonnie R. Chavez, Navy's Behavioral Health program manager, Navy Suicide Prevention and OSC policies, also explained what the Navy is doing to help Sailors prevent and remedy mental health concerns.

The OSC program, which began in November of 2008, seeks to create an environment where Sailors, commands and families can thrive in the midst of stressful operations. Sailors need to employ all means available to stay fit and ready as well as seek assistance for stress reactions early before they become stress problems.

"The program is really an extension of the tradition that the Navy's had for over 200 years, that of leaders taking care of sailors and their families," Laraway said. "We've focused a lot in the last few years on physical readiness and now we're realizing that we need to spend as much time and effort on psychological fitness and resilience in order to help our sailors and their families become strong and ready to carry out the missions at hand."

Because mental and behavioral health issues carry with them a stigma, it's a difficult topic to get Sailors to address. However, in recent years OSC programs across the Department of Defense have helped reduce that stigma.

Laraway wants the OSC to further that idea by giving sailors a preventative resource to help handle stress.

"We want the Navy to be a place where sailors recognize the effects of stress and know how to deal with it, to prevent things from becoming crises or problems," Laraway said. "The program really is aimed to help sailors and leaders thrive in the midst of these stressful situations. To that end, we've developed training tools, practical techniques based upon sound medical research, as well as lessons learned from the combat exposure and from our combat leaders."

Laraway said her program is different from similar groups in the other services, because the Navy has different needs as far as stress control. For the most part, she said, stress among sailors has more to do with work schedules and deployment itself, rather than boots-on-the-ground combat-related problems.

"Their day-to-day stressors are not about being in the sand, they're not about IEDs (improvised explosive devices)," Laraway said. "It's about their regular deployment schedule, the increased optempo of our ships ... there's a little bit different focus in that the Marines [and other services] have a little more reliance on combat operational stress, and we're focusing more on the broader picture for the Navy of operational stress because every Sailor experiences operational stress, whether they're in combat or not."

The program also follows the old saying - "you recruit the Sailor, you keep the family" - by providing assistance to family members while their Sailor is deployed.

"Yes, certainly you can't separate one from the other because if you have a Sailor who is deployed and is trying to focus on the mission but he's aware of stresses in the family, that can be very, very serious and it all affects mission readiness and so we need to look at the whole picture," Laraway said.

"Just as a coach would never let a world class athlete go into competition unprepared, the leadership must ensure that our sailors and their families have every available resource to excel, both in their personal and their professional lives," added Laraway.

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