Talking about stress can be a challenge in itself. Finding someone who can relate to your experiences and help you work through them can seem even tougher—particularly with the range of stressors unique to military life.
Recognizing the unique challenges and bonds that service members, veterans and families share, the Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO) has sponsored Vets 4 Warriors peer support line. This resource offers active duty, National Guard, and reserve service members and families access to 24/7, free and confidential support from peers—veterans and family members who can relate to your experiences and feelings. Veterans and family members who have “been there.”
Vets 4 Warriors is not a crisis line, though staff will connect callers with immediate resources if an emergency is imminent. Rather, the network offers an outlet for callers to talk through stressors and get connected with the right resources, with the help of those who understand military life first-hand. Vets 4 Warriors’ “Veteran Peers” work diligently to connect callers with specific resources for any issue: finances, legal matters, medical services, transition or reintegration difficulties and more. They can provide information and advice, as well as referrals. And, support can be ongoing for as long as you, the caller, choose to remain engaged. Veteran Peers are not clinical or medical care providers, nor will they share any information with the military or VA. They’re simply here to lend a hand when you need help getting over any of life’s numerous hurdles.
If you choose to call Vets 4 Warriors, you can expect a non-judgmental conversation with a veteran from your branch of Service, who is ready to listen and offer help—and hope. Veteran Peers are trained to help callers feel comfortable speaking about issues, addressing the internal, external and environmental barriers that can often keep us from seeking help. Best of all, peer support offers reciprocal benefits. By talking with a Veteran Peer, you’re helping him or her grow from personal challenges as much as he or she is helping you withstand, recover and adapt from your own. That is how we truly build resilience. Together.
For more information, visit http://www.vets4warriors.com/ or call 1-855-838-8255 toll-free. You may also email or start a live chat with a Veteran Peer. For OCONUS callers, please click here for instructions.
Many Sailors are preparing for upcoming Personal Change of Station (PCS) moves this summer, a transition that can bring about as much stress as it does excitement. Transitions can mean disruption to daily routines and separation from one’s social/support network (think exhausting and isolating cross-country drives for a PCS move, or transferring as a geobachelor). Even for experienced PCS pros who are eagerly awaiting the next chapter in their career and life, moves can be tough—particularly when they’re occurring during an otherwise stressful time.
While our shipmates may seem to have it all under control on the outside, it’s important to remain vigilant and pay attention to even the smallest signals that something isn’t right, particularly as they’re leaving a familiar environment and are heading to a new one. You may know bits and pieces about a shipmate’s life outside of the work center—relationship or family tension, financial issues, apprehension about career changes, etc.—but may feel as though you don’t know enough to get involved. Even though your buddy may casually dismiss his or her problems, or may not discuss them at length, reach out and offer your support and encourage him or her to speak with someone, perhaps a chaplain or trusted leader, before the situation becomes overwhelming. The likelihood of making a bad decision is higher when a person is in transition, so identifying resources early is vital to keeping your shipmate healthy and mission-ready.
If you notice anything out of the norm for your shipmate, break the silence and speak with others who know him or her well—a unit leader, roommate, family member or friend. They may have noticed the same cues or observed some that you weren’t aware of, helping to “connect the dots” and facilitate the intervention process. While you may not be able to tell if your shipmate is or isn’t in crisis on your own, by openly communicating to piece things together, you’re helping to ensure that your buddy has resources in place to help him or her build resilience and thrive in their next phase in life.
Ongoing communication is critical. Once your shipmate has checked out of your command, don’t lose track of him or her. Ensure that you have his or her accurate contact information, ask about upcoming plans, and check-in with them on their progress often. Remind your shipmate that they’re still a part of your family and that you care about their well-being. Preventing suicide starts by being there for every Sailor, every day—no matter where they are.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s (SAMHSA) “National Prevention Week” is right around the corner. Observed from May 18 – 24, this annual public health initiative is aimed at increasing awareness of mental health issues and substance abuse issues through community-centered approaches. While this week is used to promote public awareness and support, National Prevention Week was developed based on the concept that “effective prevention… requires consistent action.” It’s an all hands evolution, all of the time. This is a great opportunity for you, your shipmates and families to tie in the many ways we can come together to support each other and prevent destructive behavior, engaging the theme “Our Lives. Our Health. Our Future.” Each day, SAMHSA will highlight a new topic according to the following calendar.
May 18: Prevention and Cessation of Tobacco Use
May 19: Prevention of Underage Drinking
May 20: Prevention of Prescription Drug Abuse and MarijuanaUse
May 21: Prevention of Alcohol Abuse
May 22: Prevention of Suicide
May 23: Promotion of Mental Health
Visit SAMHSA online for National Prevention Week engagement ideas. You could organize a health fair supporting the daily topics or promote prevention awareness on your command’s Facebook page using SAMHSA’s messages. Even individual action promotes solidarity. Take the Prevention Pledge on Facebook and encourage your shipmates to do the same. Templates are also available online for the “I Choose” project—a great opportunity for individual or group engagement. Just take a photo of yourself or a group of your shipmates holding up an “I Choose” sign personalized with your message promoting healthy choices to prevent destructive behavior.
Navy’s 21st Century Sailor Programs have myriad resources to support your local efforts. Visit Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Navy Suicide Prevention, and Navy Operational Stress Control online for downloadable tools and information. For more resources, including Tobacco Cessation information, visit Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center’s Health Promotion and Wellness site.
Rear Admiral Sean S. Buck
Director, 21st Century Sailor Office
U.S. Navy Photo/Released
During my nearly 30 years of service in our Navy, it’s safe to say that I’ve encountered my fair share of stress—both operational and personal. No matter the source, there was always something that I could count on to help me navigate, see things clearly, and keep an even keel; the camaraderie and cohesion I shared with my fellow Sailors.
As a leader, I’ve had to learn to “bounce back” from adversity as soon as possible in order to maintain my ability to look out for my Sailors and guide our mission. But as we’ve learned this month, the difference between bouncing back and thriving is one’s sense of community—I didn’t bounce back on my own; I had support. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned about community is that you have to take care of yourself in order to help those that depend on you. Having the strength to seek help has to be something you can identify within before you can truly encourage others to do the same. Yet the courage to accept help is where it begins. Our natural inclination as service members is to give and not receive. But when we can find a way to do both—encouraging our shipmates to speak up about their stressors, and also speaking up about our own—we’ve evolved. The smallest action can have a rippling impact and we must all lead by example.
September may be coming to a close, but our efforts to help one another navigate stress, build resilience and thrive will continue. As we wrap up Suicide Prevention Month, take a moment to read about the impressive efforts that took place in our Navy over the past few weeks. I have an immense sense of pride knowing that I serve with Sailors who truly look out for and support their shipmates through calm and rough seas. Honor, courage and commitment at their finest.
- Joint Intelligence Center, Central Command Unit 0274 partnered with personnel from Information Dominance Corps East to contribute to a Habitat for Humanity Project benefiting the Jacksonville, FL community.
- Sailors assigned to the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Ford (FFG 54) organized a suicide awareness run. Sailors who participated in the event ran a cumulative 32 miles, one mile for each suicide in the Navy this year.
- Navy Warfare Development Command held a Suicide Prevention and Awareness Run, encouraging non-runners to sponsor runners. Sponsors agreed to receive suicide prevention and stress navigation awareness resources in exchange for their endorsement, and the runner with the most sponsors received special recognition.
- Fleet Readiness Center Mid-Atlantic developed a wall in the break room for Sailors and leaders to post a compliment to a fellow shipmate for all to see as small tokens of appreciation.
These are just a few of the many efforts around the fleet helping us “thrive in our communities.” Thank you for your dedication to one another, and please keep up the great work.
About the Author
Rear Admiral Sean S. Buck is the Director of the 21st Century Sailor Office, OPNAV N17. Read his full biography here.
For more examples of “Thrive in Your Community” engagement, follow @NavStress on Facebook (www.facebook.com/navstress) or visit the Suicide Prevention Month webpage on www.suicide.navy.mil.
If you, your shipmate or a loved one is having trouble navigating stress or experiencing a crisis, help is always available 24/7. Call the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK and select option 1.
Posted in Navy Leadership, OSC, Resilience, Suicide Prevention
Tagged ACT, Community, Navigating Stress, Operational Stress Control, Sailors, suicide prevention, suicide prevention month, US Navy