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My husband’s ideations of suicide began with frustration at world events, home stress and thoughts of the benefits of “no longer being around.” Negative thoughts spiral until a Servicemember is overwhelmed by reasons validating suicide as their only option. Those thoughts killed my husband. Intervention at the suicide ideation stage is critical. In strong contrast to my husband’s downward spiral is U.S. Navy Corpsman 1st Class (FMF/EXW) Travis Morton’s life and how he was brave enough to be saved.
Last year, my husband was acting out his stress at home, his anger and reactivity were directed at us, his family. He had resources from his Army unit for counseling, for his chaplain, but he chose not to speak to them about his issues. I also chose to keep silent about his outbursts, and not to engage with our resources in the Navy for counseling. We were both not brave enough to “connect to protect” and be saved.
About that same time, Morton was experiencing life stressors, and thoughts of suicide began to take hold. He recognized the danger of those thoughts and having easy access to weapons he called a mentor. Morton connected with his fellow corpsman for advice. That corpsman let him know that he should seek treatment without delay. Because he reached out to connect for help, he was directed to take his ideations of suicide seriously and contact his chain of command for support. Morton found the help and the resources he needed. He was brave enough to connect to services and therapists, to reach for that lifeline.
My husband, John made a choice to not connect. He did not reach out to services, friends, battle buddies, or chaplains. Ironically, he isolated in fear that a diagnosis of suicidal thoughts would harm his career and instead he made a terrible final choice that has lasting consequences for our children, for his unit, for my unit. It seemed ridiculous, but a fear of losing status in his careers and appearing weak to others is the reason he is no longer alive. After his near miss with suicide, Morton endeavored to instruct suicide prevention courses with his own personal experience added to the training. Encouraging other Sailors to be brave enough to seek help, “My goal is to just bring awareness to Sailors and show them that it doesn’t negatively impact or put them in a negative light,” Morton said. “I want to show them, it’s the opposite of weakness to speak out. It takes a strong person to stand there and talk about their problems instead of trying to bury them, by burying themselves.”
My late husband’s U.S. Army Chaplain, Capt. Benjamin Gilmore was just reporting for duty with my husband's unit at Fort Hood, Texas, when he learned of John’s death. Capt. Gilmore has had his own personal struggles with suicide and helped to prevent many suicides throughout his time in service. “Soldiers think that the pain of suicide will end with them. That when they are experiencing trials, they can take an easy exit, and everything will be resolved. There is nothing further from the truth. The pain continues for the rest of their friends and families lives.”
Morton allowed me to be a part of his suicide prevention training. We stood as stark contrasts to each other. The Sailor that was brave enough to speak out, and the Sailor who lost everything because she and her late husband did not.
Morton spoke to the career impact of reporting suicidal ideations in his outreach prevention training. “It didn’t affect my clearance at all to ask for help, to reach out. There were no repercussions to my advancement or record,” Morton said. “It did however save my life. I knew that I wanted to be there for my son, my daughter and for my spouse. And I made the right decision to ask for help at the right time.”
Memorial Day is a good reminder to connect. Recent world events and the COVID pandemic have impacted almost everyone here in America, and especially our Armed Forces. The DOD found that service members who connected to others through peers, Chaplaincy programs, PHOP, or into the Suicide Prevention Hotline were really helped.
This is a time to be brave enough to reach out on behalf of ourselves and others. According to Lieutenant Commander Nicholas Dewhurst, U.S. Navy Chaplain reports that over his career, several Sailors have reached out on behalf of their shipmates to report suicidal ideations. “When Sailors have a vested interest in the lives of their shipmates and engage in intentional leadership, it is often the best avenue for suicide prevention. Just like it takes an entire unit to complete a mission, it takes working together as a unit to prevent suicide,” Dewhurst said.
My husband has left a large gap in our lives. He could fix anything. Now, he can fix nothing. His children and I will spiral for years on the “why?” Why did he commit suicide? What were the small, quiet thoughts under the surface that killed him? We will never get an exact answer to that torture. I urge you all to be brave enough to connect with help, brave enough to help others. Brave enough to save. If you think that your fellow Sailor or Soldier is hurting, ask them. Treat them with respect and kindness and care, connect to protect.
Editor’s note: If you, your friend, your shipmate or a loved one are having trouble navigating stress or experiencing a crisis, help is always available. Reach out to your local Fleet and Family Support Center, Deployed Resilience Counselor or any of the following free resources:
VA MILITARY CRISIS LINE — Connects with qualified and caring Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential, toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Support is available via telephone, mobile text or online. https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/ Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255, Option 1), text 838255
MILITARY ONESOURCE — Free and confidential non-medical counseling via phone and live chat, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. https://www.militaryonesource.mil/ Call 1-800-342-9647
Psychological Health Outreach Program — PHOP counselors provide counseling support at all Navy Operational Support Centers and over 29 Reserve units across the country. Call 1-866-578-PHOP (7467)
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Navy Reserve 24/7 Chaplain Hotline: (757) 322-5650
National Hope Line Network: 1-800-784-2433
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 (24/7)
Substance Abuse/Mental Health Services: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
Navy 24/7 Civilian Employee Assistance Hotline: 1-844-366-2327
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