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Seeking Help is a Sign of Strength, Commitment

10 September 2021
As the U.S. military unwinds from two decades of war, and the nation observes Suicide Prevention Month, the Department of the Navy is reinvigorating its commitment to year-round suicide prevention efforts.

“It is paramount that our service members, veterans and civilian workforce access the mental health support they deserve, and understand that seeking help is a sign of their strength and commitment to each other and our nation,” said Melissa Cohen, Director, DON Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment and Suicide Prevention and Response Office (DON SAPRO). “I encourage Sailors, Marines, veterans and civilians to treat mental health with the same urgency and normalcy as physical health.”

Suicide is a challenge throughout American society, acutely felt within the military and veteran communities. Despite ongoing prevention efforts, the military and veteran communities continue to be impacted by suicide.

“We recognize that we need to do more to reach people in need,” said Cohen. “That means assessing everything from our culture to resources and prevention efforts.”

Cohen, married to a retired Marine who served for 31 years, is committed to increasing confidence in the Department’s mental health resources. She prioritized hiring the right staff to help her lead these efforts, and welcomed subject matter experts in suicide and sexual assault prevention onto her leadership team in the last year.

Andrea Goldstein, assistant director for Force Resiliency at DON SAPRO, served as an active-duty Navy intelligence officer and still serves in the Navy Reserve. She has served as a strategic planner and policy advisor in both international organizations and in the U.S. House of Representatives. An award-winning published author, she has frequently written and spoken publicly about her own experiences seeking mental health support both in and out of uniform.

Dr. Jessica Gallus, Highly Qualified Expert, DON SAPRO, is a subject matter expert in suicide prevention and resilience promotion. She led one of the nation’s largest evidence-based suicide prevention programs, has chaired state-level lethal means safety coalitions, and has provided suicide prevention expertise and training to thousands of individuals in industry, academia, other government agencies, and professional associations.

Together, Cohen, Gallus, Goldstein, and their team have set out to provide better access to mental health care, empower a culture of peer-to-peer support, and defeat the stigma associated with mental health care in the Navy and Marine Corps.

“We must eliminate the negative stereotypes and perceptions that prevent help-seeking behavior,” said Gallus. “Each of us is the first line of defense in suicide prevention. Team members, friends, and family are often the first to recognize signs that someone may be suicidal. Our service members don’t think twice about recalibrating their weapons after a day on the range or stretching after a long run. Why would we treat our minds any differently? We have to be proactive about recovery if we’re serious about performance.”

“And leaders need to set the conditions for this to happen,” notes Gallus, “The skills needed to be an effective leader are the same ones needed to prevent suicide – we have to recognize challenges, have the courage to ask tough questions, the empathy to listen, and the tools to reduce risk.”

Throughout the year, DON SAPRO will host online discussions centered on mental health literacy, the power of connection, and effective coping skills for adapting to and overcoming stressful experiences. The discussions will feature renowned mental health speakers and influential messengers normalizing mental health maintenance.

The DON SAPRO message to the Department of the Navy community is clear: You are not alone. Support is within reach.

These resources are available right now:

  • The Military Crisis Line: 800-273-8255 (press 1) or Text 838255 / www.veteranscrisisline.net
  • Military OneSource: 800-342-9647 (OCONUS) / TTY: 800-342-9647 / www.militaryonesource.mil
  • Vet Centers: 877-WAR-VETS (877-927-8387) / www.vetcenter.va.gov
  • Department of the Navy Civilian Employee Assistance Program (DONCEAP): 844-DONCEAP (1-844-366-2327) / TTY: 888-262-7848 / International: 866-829-0270 / www.magellanascend.com
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