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Navy Suicide Prevention: It's An All-Hands Effort

Sadly, 46 sailors took their lives last year. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death in the United States Navy, accounting for 13 percent of fatalities in 2009, officials say. The numbers aren't as high as they are in the Army and Marine Corps, but they are still troubling.

The Navy recognizes the seriousness of suicide and has developed additional training methods to help. Sailors themselves, from pay grades E-1 to O-10, are key players in the suicide prevention process, something that begins with the chain of command, coworkers and friends of the sailor experiencing negative thoughts.

"One big thing that people neglect about suicide is the power of little things," Capt. Paul S. Hammer, director of the Naval Center for Combat and Operational Stress Control (NCCOSC), tells the Armed Forces Press Service. "So often we see that many people were dissuaded from hurting themselves by someone who made a very minor gesture that turned out to be huge."


The NCCOSC also developed a suicide prevention kit called Front Line Supervisor Training that was mostly written by Todd Pickel, a retired Navy corpsman and neuropsychiatry specialist. The kit is geared toward sailors' awareness of behavior leading to suicide through interactive situational training. The goal is to create a positive environment where individuals feel comfortable asking for help and where positive leadership and availability of resources are understood.

The suicide prevention kit, which entered the fleet in April and includes the new video, "A Message from Suicide," along with interactive, peer-to-peer facilitated training, advises sailors who come face-to-face with someone in a suicidal situation to visualize the acronym ACT: "Ask, Care and Treat."

Ask involves recognizing sailors with problems and staying engaged. Recognizing a shipmate dealing with stress that can lead to visions of suicide is important. Start off with a simple question, "What's bothering you?" Encourage troubled sailors to talk about what they are feeling and ask if they are thinking of taking their life.

According to the suicide prevention kit, having a 20-minute conversation can save the life of a sailor contemplating suicide. Let them know there is hope and they're not alone by giving them your undivided attention and having an open heart. Treat, the kit explains, means taking the sailor to get help. Do not leave them alone until professional help has arrived. Continue offering support for that shipmate through treatment and after. Something as simple as inviting the sailors over for dinner on Sunday nights can show them that their presence is appreciated. Over time, this simple act can encourage them to seek help in dealing with suicidal thoughts.

In three words: be a friend.


The Navy provides sailors with a variety of options to combat suicidal thoughts such as command chaplains, Fleet and Family Service Centers and command medical facilities available to assist and direct in times of need. Resources also include the Navy's suicide prevention website and the Operational Stress Control continuum. Suicide intervention services like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention also are available to sailors.