For the Navy, combat readiness means having the most advanced equipment, technology and trained personnel to win any battle, including battles of the mind.
It’s a battle the Navy has fought since the service’s inception, and with no small casualties. According to the Department of the Navy Human Resources, 74 active-duty Sailors took their own lives in 2019, the highest number of suicides in a single year in the past 15 years. Since then, suicide rates have declined, due in part to the resources and aids the Navy provides to seafarers who may be experiencing mental health crises.
“One of the things that contributes to suicidal behavior is relationship difficulties,” said Lt. Odelia McFadden, Ship Psychologist. “Many of our resources focus on improving relationships with spouses and family members, but there are also many resources that can help single sailors as well.”
These resources include chaplains and religious ministries, ship psychologists, Deployment Resiliency Counselors (DRC), drug and alcohol counseling programs, Military One Source, medical care plans that provide for psychotherapy, and a variety of other programs and services focused on empowering seafarers help you navigate life’s biggest stressors. While these resources are available to all sailors, they can only help those who know them.
“Some people may be successful and don’t necessarily need these resources at this point in their lives,” McFadden said. “Just knowing what’s available to them is extremely important in case they need help in the future.”
The Navy follows the National Alliance of Mental Illness in declaring the month of September Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which focuses on highlighting all available mental health resources, helping to improve the quality of life and promoting overall mental health and well-being .
“The goal of the month is to highlight signs and signals that come from people having suicidal thoughts or thoughts,” McFadden said. “It’s about educating the community about recognizing these risk factors and what they can do to better serve and support their fellow travelers and community members.”
Another goal of the month is to destigmatize seeking help for mental health issues and encourage Sailors to use the resources available to them, which was the driving force behind organizing the Mental Health Wellness Fair for Vinson Sailors.
“So many people struggle with mental health issues,” said Capt. Fr. Scott Miller, Commander of Vinson. “Even if it’s just one sailor we can help today by connecting them to the right resource, it’s worth the effort.”
The wellness event began with a 5K Run for Life, followed by Yoga in the Park, where there were several vendor booths offering treats and fun challenges, as well as information about their services. Present were representatives from the Fleet and Family Support Center, the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society and Support the Enlisted Project (STEP), as well as Sailors from Vinsons Medical and Command Religion and Ministries Departments.
“The ability to place faces and names with these resources in a welcoming environment like this is extremely beneficial for sailors,” said McFadden. “They make a connection that opens the door to use those services when they really need them, and that can save lives.”
The highlight of the show was the miniature horses and donkeys presented by the Cornerstone Therapeutic Riding Center (CTRC), a San Diego-based non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of wounded and recovering service members, veterans, first responders and their families through horses has brought along therapy.
“Horses are very adept at absorbing energies, and they mirror what’s going on in humans,” said Judy Beckett, CEO and founder of CTRC. “We see that people have deep revelations and personal insights from interacting with the horses. They have these amazing superpowers.”
The equestrian center offers free equine therapy to service members, and sign-up sheets were available at the show for sailors interested in trying out the program. The sailors were also able to pet the horses and donkeys, and some volunteered to lead them through obstacle courses as part of a herd relay.
“They’re cute, they’re cuddly, they help me with my sanity; I love her,” said Seaman Maria Lugo, a Vinson sailor from the deck division and relay race winner.
Vinson is currently undergoing a maintenance phase at her homeport in San Diego. According to McFadden, child support times increase the risk of one of the most common factors leading to suicidal thoughts and behavior: a sense of meaninglessness and belonging.
“Being outside of the work environment in a social situation like this reinforces a sense of belonging and connectedness that is vital to our mental health,” said Rear Admiral Carlos Sardiello, commander of Carrier Strike Group ONE. “It is a beautiful day and this is a fantastic event organized by Vinson leadership to look after her family and team and I applaud their efforts.”
In addition to the Mental Health Wellness Fair, Vinson has been promoting mental health in other ways this month, including sporting events organized by Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) and a calendar of daily activities aimed at reducing stress promoted by McFadden is distributed.
It’s all part of a Navy-wide effort to take the issue of suicide head-on and give service members the tools they need to overcome their mental adversities.
“Unfortunately, suicide is something we can never really rule out,” McFadden said. “Reduction is the goal, and through mental health resources and events like this that help us promote it, we are making great efforts to reduce the suicide rate in the Navy.”
If you are a seafarer or family member struggling with mental health or financial issues and need support, contact your chaplain, DRC, ship psychologist or one of the following resources:
– Lifeline for suicide and crisis: dial 988
– Fleet and Family: 1 (866) 923-6478
– American Red Cross: 1 (877) 272-7337
– Auxiliary Society of the Navy Marine Corps:
Go to NMCRS.org and click Get Assistance.
– STEP: Support the registered program:
Go to TeamStepUSA.org and click Help