Suicide prevention: Strengthening our Navy team together


Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt
Director,21st Century Sailor Office

Suicide is a tragedy that extends beyond individual Sailors. It affects divisions, commands and the entire Navy family. Each loss is one too many. While much work has been done to understand the underlying causes of suicide, it is a complex issue that confronts our society as a whole, not just those of us in uniform.

Over The Past Few years we have worked hard to strengthen our prevention and intervention strategies. In September 2015, we launched “1 Small ACT,” which is focused on people connecting with people. It advocates the importance of small acts of caring —getting to know each other and showing Sailors that you care. Additionally, this past fall we announced the creation of a new suicide prevention program known as Sailor

Assistance and Intercept for Life (SAIL), which is aimed at supplementing existing mental health treatment by providing continual support through the first 90 days after suicide-related behavior.

However, anyone can be at risk for suicide as we face life’s challenges, even the toughest among us. And while Sailors pride themselves on their mental, physical and spiritual toughness, as they should, all of us go through challenges that can be difficult to talk about.

That’s why it’s imperative that we as Sailors, as individuals and as friends, look out for each other, recognize that something may not be right and then step in.

Right now, in your division, your department or your command, there is someone that may need your help, who is struggling with stress or having thoughts of suicide.

It’s important to recognize that suicides typically occur when Sailors are experiencing some combination of recent multiple stressors, including relationship problems, personal or professional loss, recent career transitions, disciplinary / legal issues and financial strain. We cannot ignore the harmful effects of poor self-care, prolonged stress and chronic sleep deprivation that can be catalysts for or results of such challenges.

Talking about our challenges, whether they’re operational, social or psychological in nature, makes us all better as a team and helps us create a climate of trust, which encourages Sailors to come forward and seek help in times of need.

This issue doesn’t end with one conversation, a momentary action or a change of policy. And it cannot be something we only think about one month out of the year. It’s a daily effort 24/7/365. Be there for every Sailor, every day.

Furthermore, it’s the responsibility of Navy leaders to set a tone within our commands where Sailors have the courage to ask for help and when they do, they get the right resources and support they need. This requires that we all have awareness of the services provided by your local and embedded mental healthcare providers, Fleet and Family Support Centers, Military OneSource and the absolute confidentiality of our Navy Chaplain Corps.

Talk to your shipmates. Ask them how they’re doing. Open the dialogue. It’s our duty to strengthen our Navy team, today and into the future, one Sailor at a time.

Assistance is always available. Call the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), www. or text 838255 for free confidential support 24 / 7.

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Category: News