NORFOLK, Va. –
Sailors taking their own lives through suicide is one of the United States Navy’s top three causes of death annually. Suicidal ideation and suicide attempts are still something many Sailors find difficult to discuss or admit to, due to the perceived stigma attached to seeking care for mental health.
“It’s very different from the way it was years ago. Back when I came in, you just didn’t talk about those things,” said Chief Logistics Specialist Barbara Pagan, Navy Reserve Region Readiness and Mobilization Command (REDCOM) Norfolk, Suicide Prevention Coordinator. “The Navy has moved away from it, but the stigma is still there. A lot of people aren’t open to discussing it and a lot of it stems from the way things were where they grew up. When you come into the Navy, it’s a completely different type of home and family, so you are trying to break [Sailors] away from those habits.”
Many Sailors who have suicidal thoughts or struggles refuse to seek help. When asked, they believe they will receive the help they need, but are also afraid of being treated differently, losing the trust of their leadership, and having their career negatively impacted.
“When someone does come forward and is recovering from suicidal ideation or an attempt, it all comes down to environment,” said Pagan. “It’s very important to have compassion and understanding that we are all human and all have struggles. Leaders need to be aware of this fact and to have the conversation with the department prior to the Sailor’s return. It’s important to treat them normally and be understanding of the struggle they are facing.”
There are many different avenues for a Sailor to receive help when dealing with thoughts of suicide, and there are programs in place to get them the help they need. The Navy Sailor Assistance and Intercept for Life (SAIL) is a program Sailors are automatically referred to by the command when they come forward seeking help. It is an evidence-based intervention that provides rapid assistance, ongoing risk assessment, care coordination, and reintegration assistance.
“Navy Region Mid-Atlantic seems to have a consistent knowledge gap of the SAIL program throughout the region,” said Pagan. “Most of our coordinators throughout the region aren’t familiar with the program or its purpose. They have been exposed to it but lack the knowledge or experience to understand it.”
Pagan mentioned that REDCOM Norfolk’s suicide prevention team is creating and disseminating a recurring training with SAIL as the lead topic, providing additional knowledge to the region’s Suicide Prevention Coordinators.
“The SAIL program is an important tool for the Navy in providing proper assistance and getting our Sailors the help they need,” said Pagan. “We need our Reserve Force to be properly taken care of and given the help they need in order to maintain mission readiness.”
Additional guidance for submitting SAIL referrals, including the Suicide Prevention Handbook and SAIL Commanders Toolkit, can be found on the Navy Suicide Prevention Program website: www.suicide.navy.mil.