By Lt. Cmdr. Bonnie Chavez, Behavioral Health Program Manager, Office of Personal and Family Readiness
MILLINGTON, Tenn. -- Navy considers suicide prevention an all hands evolution all the time. Still, September is recognized as Suicide Prevention Month, and it makes sense to pause, once in a while, from our day to day efforts and consider some additional preventive actions. Here are seven actions that individuals, families, work centers or commands can take to contribute to suicide prevention any time of year.
1) You make a difference – Pass it on!
Small seeds of hope or a sense of effectiveness and belonging can grow to form the threads that sustain us through tough times.
Make the effort to let three people in your life know that they make a difference to you. Be specific about how and why you appreciate who they are and what they do that makes a difference in your life. Ask that they pass it on by honoring three people in their lives this way.
2) Run a “fire” drill.
Most of us do not necessarily expect to be in a fire but we go through drills about what to do if we find ourselves in a fire or other disaster. If we ever need it, we know the escape routes--even if they are hard to see because of smoke or darkness. However, it is not often that we consider or practice what to do when we encounter a personal crisis or have a chance to help another person in personal crisis.
Consider what you would do in a personal crisis within yourself or someone else. Run a drill to practice your plan. It may feel awkward to practice saying “I am so upset, I am thinking of hurting myself,” “I have so many problems piled up and am so overwhelmed that I am desperate and need to talk so I can think straight”, or “I am feeling suicidal and need help”; but, it also feels awkward doing CPR on a mannequin, bracing for shock during a general quarters drill or jumping into a sawdust pit to learn how to land properly for a parachute jump. The bottom line is that you don’t want to have to figure out how to land right on the way to the ground; you don’t want to figure out how to do chest compressions with a person unconscious in front of you; and, you don’t want to figure out how to reach out when you or someone else is already in the middle of the darkness of a personal crisis.
Practice with a partner, or small group, on how to ACT (Ask- Care – Treat).
Ask if someone is thinking of suicide.
Care – Listen, offer hope, don’t judge.
Treat – Take action, don’t leave the person alone, get assistance.
Front Line Supervisor Training is a suicide prevention training course that provides an excellent opportunity to discuss, and role-play some realistic scenarios, and practice your communication and intervention skills.
For commands, this is a good time to test your crisis response plan. Have someone call the duty office and have the duty section practice going through their plan to talk, gather information, and access support. Practice your plan to assist someone onboard who is at acute risk. Check your safety considerations. Update the recall roster.
For emergency responders or medical commands, run a drill to practice your protocols for suicide risk and response.
3) Do a self-assessment.
Stress affects us all and health problems like sleep difficulties, depression, and anxiety are extremely common. For example, one in five people will have at least one episode of Major Depression. Sometimes wear and tear or illness creeps up on us slowly like a cancer and we don’t feel quite right but really don’t understand that anything is wrong until it really takes a toll. The link below leads to an anonymous online self-assessment tool. Take a few minutes and see where you are. If you can recognize a concern early, there are many resources to address it before it starts to impact your work performance, relationships, and health in negative ways.
For commands: go through the check list in OPNAVINST 1720.4A and see how you are doing as a command in implementing your suicide prevention program.
Early proactive resources:
Fleet and Family Support Center: 800-372-5463 or www.cnic.navy.mil/CNIC_HQ_Site/FleetandFamilyReadiness/FamilyReadiness/FleetFamilySupport.
Tricare (now offering remote and web based counseling in CONUS): 800-600-9332 (CONUS) or www.tricareonline.com.
Medical Facility and/or Mental Health;
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK; and,
Navy Marine Corps Public Health Center: www.nmcphc.med.navy.mil.
4) Connect with the community.
Suicide affects every state, community, and demographic group. Don’t go it alone. There are many organizations and opportunities in your community.
These are a few of the many organizations that can give you ideas and links to local activities. There are also many state, community, and youth specific activities.
5) Engage in fellowship, meditation, or prayer.
In keeping with your beliefs, work with your local chaplain, faith group, or friends to hold a breakfast or lunch in which suicide warning signs, risks and protective factors are discussed. Set aside time for meditation or prayer on behalf of those struggling in the darkness of a personal crisis in which they may be contemplating taking their life. Or, hold a vigil for a few days or a week where each day a different group of people agrees to pray together at a certain time.
6) Good grief.
Survey’s show that upwards of half of our personnel knew someone personally who lost a struggle to suicide. The pain caused by suicide loss does not heal quickly or easily and some studies estimate that the effects of suicide on a family last for generations. If you are grieving a loss or putting off even thinking about it for years, make some time to sort things out and facilitate healing.
7) Share your story.
Every day, people find hope and strength amidst adversity and reach out to help one another. If you have overcome a personal crisis, we invite you to email us with your story to share with others (no names will be included). Please share what helped you. If you helped someone through a crisis and assisted in saving a life, we also invite you to share your experience. We will share them throughout the year (with no names or identifiers) at www.suicide.navy.mil. If your command has done something in your suicide prevention program that you consider a practice worth sharing, we welcome your stories also.
Send your emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on Navy Suicide Prevention, go to www.suicide.navy.mil.