SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Naval Center for Combat and Operational Stress Control (NCCOSC) staff marked Suicide Prevention Month by participating in two events aimed at stress management, suicide prevention, and resiliency building Sept. 10, at Naval Base San Diego and Naval Air Station North Island.
These training sessions came on the heels of a message from Commander, Navy Region Southwest, stating that "Suicide Prevention Month is not meant to be a single event for the year. Rather, let this month be the springboard for ongoing engagement concerning open communication, personal wellness, peer support, and bystander intervention, for every Sailor, every day, throughout the year to ensure we have the most resilient combat force possible."
Rob Gerardi, retired master chief hospital corpsman and NCCOSC education and program development department head, said during the training that stress management, resiliency, and ultimately, suicide prevention, starts at the top of the chain of command.
"Leaders have the responsibility to create an environment where there's trust, unit cohesion, and respect, and where it's okay to ask for and give help," he said.
Air Traffic Controlman 1st Class (AW/SW) Rebecca Rosati, who works at San Diego's Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility, said a supportive chain of command does indeed play a vital role in whether a service member is able to seek help for mental health concerns.
"They might feel like it could affect their career, or they'll be seen as 'that person,' the problem child," explained Rosati. "They need leaders who will sit down and hear their story and not judge."
That was the whole idea behind these training events, said Cmdr. Stephan Dupourque, who leads Navy Region Southwest's 21st Century Sailor & Marine initiative. The initiative is "a set of objectives and policies, new and existing, across a spectrum of wellness that maximizes each Sailor's and Marine's personal readiness to hone the most combat effective force in the history of the Department of the Navy," according to the program's website.
"Anything that starts a conversation is helpful," said Dupourque. "We need to ensure people are comfortable talking about suicide and that we've got the open lines of communication to do just that."
Suicide education and treatment have come a long way, added Dupourque. "I think the understanding of suicide and what causes it has improved over the years. We've gone from not talking about it and placing blame, to treating it as an illness."
But there's still room for improvement, especially in the military, where there's a long-standing perception that you must not show weakness. Even with the many strides in suicide prevention and awareness, it's still talked about behind closed doors, perpetuating the stigma, the idea that it's something to be ashamed of.
"In the Navy, we do physical fitness tests every six months, but we don't do command mental fitness tests-those are done in private. If you fail your physical fitness test, everyone knows. Your shipmates and your command support you and encourage you to improve so you can pass the next one," said Dupourque.
Why isn't mental fitness approached as openly as physical fitness, and service members shown the same support from their shipmates and chain of command? Simply put, because many people are afraid or ashamed to reveal their inner struggles. That is what would enhance training events like these: a peek into the life of someone who's been there, who's not afraid to stand up and admit they're human. Someone to say it's okay to ask for help. This is a conversation worth having, and a conversation that could save lives.
Gerardi listed four ways service members can maintain their mental fitness: by practicing optimism, flexible thinking, behavior control, and positive coping. These are all factors in building resilience, which is associated with decreased suicide risk.
Optimism can be taught, he said, and that includes positive expectations, beliefs, and reactions. It's okay to allow yourself some time to mourn a traumatic event or a bad situation, but it's important to find the silver lining. Try starting out every day by listing three good things in your life-like a roof over your head, a steady paycheck, or good friends.
Flexible thinking is the ability to look at a situation from a different perspective, to stop and really think about it. "Sometimes the simplest way of doing things is the best...there's brilliance in the basics," says Gerardi.
Bad days are inevitable, and there will always be things or people who annoy you or get you down. Stress is a physiological change that often prevents you from seeing things in the best light. That's where behavior control comes into play. Try taking deep breaths or flexing and releasing your muscles. Turn to your favorite activities to help relax and relieve some of that tension.
Positive coping techniques address the physical, mental, social and spiritual aspects of your life. Staying physically fit, eating well, getting adequate rest, taking time to interact with others, belief in a higher power or contributing to something bigger than you are all great ways to enrich your overall well-being and improve your resiliency.
"I always try to see the positive in things. I don't see the point of being negative because you have to do it one way or another, so you might as well make the best of it," said Gas Turbine Systems Technician-Electrical (GSE) Second Class (SW) Darren Williams, who is stationed at Regional Maintenance Center Southwest in San Diego.
There is no better time than right now to act on suicide-the third leading cause of death in the Navy, according to Dr. Dan Deluna, suicide prevention coordinator for Navy Region Southwest.
"Don't be afraid to Ask what's wrong, Care-meaning listen, offer hope, and don't judge-and Treat by taking action, getting the person help and following up with them later," urges Deluna.
Suicide claims a life every 13 minutes in the US, which means every 14 minutes someone is left behind to make sense of it. Sixty-five percent of attempted suicides have a documented history of behavioral problems, leading mental health professionals like Deluna to believe more could have been done to prevent them. Proper stress management and a supportive command may ultimately be the key to prevent the loss of more lives to suicide. It's an all-hands effort, and the most important conversation you could have.
If you are finding yourself struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, don't be afraid or ashamed to get help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), Military OneSource at 1-800-342-9647, or seek out a friend, coworker, or chaplain. You can also explore all of the resources available at www.nccosc.navy.mil.
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