MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
Senior Leaders within the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing gathered to discuss and evaluate the effectiveness of and improve on current suicide prevention initiatives within the wing during a Suicide Prevention Leadership Symposium at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, Jan. 28.
The symposium featured mental health specialists who spoke on various topics such as how Marines can make a difference in suicide prevention and post-vention, national trends and support for suicide; as well as, Marine Corps initiatives and response to suicide.
Among the influential speakers, Dr. Keita Franklin, the director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, shared insights into being proactive against suicide. Franklin stressed the importance of fostering a community for service members where suicide can be prevented through communication.
“We often get the question from leadership, what happened? What was the reason that someone died by suicide?,” said Franklin. “It is never one thing that causes someone to make that terrible decision to die by suicide, but when we look across the [Department of Defense] at the risks and at the protective factors through the data we collect, we see common struggles: relationship problems are a common theme, legal problems, loss of faith with a group such as the Marine Corps or loss of face or faith in a similar organization can lead to people feeling like they don’t belong or fit in.”
Franklin stressed the importance of asking the right questions and making Marines understand that they have a support system and people they can turn to in times of trouble.
“There is a science behind messaging about suicide,” said Franklin. “We don’t want to over glamorize it, we don’t want to act like its common, it is very uncommon.
She continued to add that, “Training alone will not solve our problem and mental health alone will not solve suicide.”
During the symposium, the 2nd MAW Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Gary L. Thomas, shared his thoughts with the audience.
“When we talk about suicide, we all want to do all that we can to help prevent a suicide and, hopefully, intervene if a Marine or Sailor is struggling well before they get to that point,” said Thomas. “In order to [prevent a suicide and intervene] we have to educate ourselves and learn from those who have been touched by suicide and also those we have spent years studying and understanding the topic.”
Through early identification and intervention, 2nd MAW units are striving to decrease the number of suicides throughout their ranks.
Senior leaders were given insight into a personal account from Kim Ruocco, the chief external relations officer for suicide prevention and post-vention with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, where they were guided to be aware of “red flags” and to pay attention to detail with the Marines.
“Suicide happens when stressors outweigh the person’s ability to cope and they cannot think of another way to end the pain,” said Ruocco. “For Marines, it is important to inquire about thoughts of suicide if you see the Marine feels like a burden to the unit, peers or family; no longer finds joy in the things he used to; has lost hope that things will ever get better and expresses thoughts of wanting to die or hurt himself.”
Ruocco further explains that while Marines are focused on being the best they can be, they also work at a high level of expectations and stressors and believe that they cannot show their weaknesses because of brands and mottos endorsed by the Marine Corps.
“There are several motto’s that are revered by the [Marine Corps], like ‘Pain is weakness leaving the body’,” said Ruocco. Although not intended, Ruocco explains, “The motto implies that the more pain that you tolerate, the stronger you are. This doesn’t encourage Marines to express or process pain as a result they may tolerate it until they can’t anymore.”
While these mottos have been uplifted by Marines for years they can also create a barrier for Marines to communicate when they need help.
But with the help of their peers and leadership these barriers are getting smaller as Marines are refocusing their attention and intervening when a fellow Marine or Sailor is in need.
“I am encouraged by some of the things that the Marines and Sailors are doing,” said Thomas. “My consensus is that even down at deck plate level, Marines and Sailors are sensitized and are looking for warning signs so they can intervene when a Marine or Sailor is struggling.That’s a really good start, but as we all know, there is so much more to it.”
The Marine Corps vision of “No Marine left behind” requires leaders of all ranks to create a work environment that fosters total Marine fitness of mind, body and spirit and to create a command climate were Marines are receiving services proactively.
“As leaders we want our Marines and Sailors to thrive,” said Thomas. “Anything that we can do to help our Marines and Sailors well left of a major incident is something that we desire to do because we are concerned and we care about our Marines and Sailors, but also because it makes us more mission effective.”
If you or someone you know are considering suicide or needs to de-stress call the Military Crisis Line at 1(800) 273-8255 or visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.