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Suicide prevention is a year-round effort

Navy Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Sebastian Castano, an assistant suicide prevention coordinator assigned to Naval Station Mayport, ties a yellow ribbon around a tree at Mayport Memorial Park in recognition of Suicide Awareness Month. Participants tied yellow ribbons to represent the 46 active duty Sailors lost to suicide in 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alana Langdon) Navy Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Sebastian Castano, an assistant suicide prevention coordinator assigned to Naval Station Mayport, ties a yellow ribbon around a tree at Mayport Memorial Park in recognition of Suicide Awareness Month. Participants tied yellow ribbons to represent the 46 active duty Sailors lost to suicide in 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alana Langdon)

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While September is the month when individuals and organizations across the nation raise awareness about suicide, efforts to promote psychological health and prevent suicide are an ongoing evolution that happen every month of the year at commands throughout the Navy Medicine West region.

“Suicide prevention is something the Navy and Navy Medicine West take very seriously,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Heather Neumeyer, the NMW regional suicide prevention program manager and patient administration officer. “Ensuring our Sailors have all the tools and resources available to promote resilience and prevent suicide isn’t just good for readiness, it’s the right thing to do.”

As the regional manager for suicide prevention, Neumeyer’s job is to ensure NMW’s subordinate commands – 10 military treatment facilities and eight medical research labs – have designated suicide prevention coordinators and are up to speed on the latest policies and guidance, have received all the required training, and have access to the plethora of suicide prevention resources and information.

“The Navy’s suicide prevention program is incredibly robust,” Neumeyer said. “It begins with promoting a command culture that is supportive and works to reduce stigma, then incorporates a comprehensive training program that educates Sailors about suicide risk factors and warning signs.”

Neumeyer ensures all command suicide prevention coordinators are trained to “ACT,” an acronym that stands for ask, care, and treat – specific actions that anyone can take to assist a Sailor who may be at risk of suicide and key component of the Navy’s suicide prevention program.

Ask, the first step, means directly asking if someone is thinking of harming themselves. Care is about being there and listening to the person who may be at risk, offering hope and not judging their situation. Treat is about connecting the at-risk Sailor with a support system immediately, whether it’s calling the Military Crisis Line (1-800-273-TALK, press 1), dialing 911, or escorting them to a chaplain, a trusted leader, or medical professional.

Additional elements of the program, according to Neumeyer, include intervention, response, and reporting:

  • Intervention involves proactive planning to ensure commands know what actions to take, such as referrals for care and access to treatment, when a Sailor is at immediate risk.
  • Response means that timely and appropriate support is available to Sailors experiencing a crisis, including medical personnel, chaplains, or counselors from Fleet and Family Support Centers.
  • Reporting ensures appropriate resources and prevention measures are activated for the Sailor and their command.

Central to the Navy’s program is the idea that preventing suicide is an all hands responsibility. That’s why another aspect of the regional SPPM role is conducting site visits that assess staff training and familiarity with suicide prevention interventions and support resources.

“When I visit our commands throughout the region, I’ll stop by the quarterdeck and ask the Sailors on watch, “if I said I was having suicidal thoughts, what would you do?’” Neumeyer said. “I want to make sure information and training is getting to the deckplate – that they know how to manage the situation and get their Shipmate the help they need.”

But the ultimate goal is to not get to a crisis situation – it’s to prevent suicide by building resilience.

“Suicide prevention coordinators are part of our command resilience teams,” said Neumeyer. “We are looking holistically at what we can do proactively to support our Sailors. Because the resilience team represents a cross-section of the command and includes the command career counselor, the drug and alcohol program advisor, and the sexual assault prevention and response coordinator among others, we are pulling in multiple resources to create a cohesive and comprehensive program that approaches Sailor well-being from multiple avenues.”

The purpose of the command resilience team is to give commanders visibility of trends impacting the command’s climate while also helping improve support programs and enhance overall unit readiness.

By leveraging the expertise of the various members of the resilience team, adds Neumeyer, commands can look for trends and stressors impacting Sailors and work to improve the overall command climate, which is good for building resilience, reducing stress, and maintaining readiness.

As the regional SPPM, Neumeyer’s goal is to help every command throughout the region improve their suicide prevention programs and have the best programs possible by ensuring they have the training and information they need to succeed.

“When one of our own is struggling with thoughts of ending their life, we all have a responsibility to do everything we can to prevent that from happening,” said Navy Rear Adm. Tim Weber, NMW commander and director, Medical Service Corps. “This is not an easy task and it can’t be accomplished by one person alone, which is why suicide prevention is an all hands effort. It also requires us to be vigilant year-round so that we are always ready to help a Shipmate in need.”

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