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NEWS | July 5, 2023

Psychological Health and Outreach Program (PHOP)

By MC2 Amber Smalley

It is no secret that there has been an increase in struggles with mental health all over the world. As a demanding organization, the Navy Reserve force is comprised of tough warfighters, commonly hiding their battles with mental health.

One of the many readily available mental health resources for Navy Reserve Sailors is the Psychological Health and Outreach Program (PHOP). PHOP provides a vast selection of free psychological health services for all Navy and Marine Reserve Sailors as well as the command and support staff and their family members. Some of the services include therapy sessions, psychiatric evaluations, behavioral health screenings, case management, consultations, and psychoeducational presentations. They aim to educate, assess, refer, and follow up as needed. 

“Part of our PHOP mission also focuses on reducing the stigma of asking for help," said Alan Lipzin, the Lead Outreach Coordinator for PHOP at Naval Reserve Readiness Command Jacksonville. “We educate Sailors that getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It takes courage to confront difficult personal problems and life circumstances. Help is available. It is extremely rewarding to see the improvement that occurs when Sailors and their family members get the assistance they deserve and need. They regain a sense of happiness and purpose. They then become part of the process to reduce stigma and promote that it is okay to ask for help.”  

PHOP finds resources and coordinates referrals to help deal with life stressors. They focus on being proactive and helping service members and their families get the assistance they need. 

 “If we can assist a person with their problems, there is a better chance that they will get the help they need before it's too late,” said Lipzin. “Like any wound, it is easier to heal when it is a smaller stress wound than a larger one. By encouraging Sailors to get help before problems get out of control, we can prevent someone from ever getting into a crisis or suicidal state.” 

PHOP offers services from licensed clinical professionals with experience assisting servicemembers and military veterans. The professionals conduct site visits and monthly outreaches, around the clock phone or email consultations, and workshops on operational stress control, suicide prevention, stress, resilience and more.

One of the educational messages PHOP professionals provide is that suicide hurts the people you love, who are left behind, the most. 

“Suicide is a very uncomfortable subject for most people to talk about,” said Aaron Runion, an Outreach Team Member for PHOP REDCOM JAX. “Addressing or not addressing the issue in the right ways can either pull a family together or tear them apart. I have worked with clients who have a hard time managing intense feelings after such an event. PHOP encourages them to get assistance."

He continued with the following example: "I recently connected with a service member who experienced loss while deployed, and years later, with the suicide of a family member. He was having suicidal ideations himself. I was able to get him connected with an organization in which he was able to talk to a fellow veteran who experienced similar things. They were able to get him into an online support group with other veterans and survivors of suicide loss. I checked in with him on a weekly basis until he no longer felt despair.” 

The command and shipmates are also affected when a Sailor dies by suicide. 

“Suicide affects everyone who knew the person who died to different degrees,” said Runion. “It is important to have a broader response than with just the immediate family. My experience with a unit that lost a service member to suicide, was that not talking about it created a lot of uneasy feelings. During the drill weekend, PHOP arranged for the local Vet Center to come out. We were able to acknowledge it with the Navy Reserve Center as a whole, and meet with the specific unit to process the loss. Service members were thankful they had a time and place dedicated to talk about their loss.” 

PHOP has also developed a program called Lethal Means Safety, the process of limiting or removing access to potentially lethal means of suicide or self-harm, such as firearms, medication, and alcohol. 

If you are concerned about a Sailor, take action. Raise the issue, develop a plan, and follow up with the Sailor. You may refer them to PHOP or connect them with a Navy Reserve Chaplain.

The first step in suicide prevention is learning to recognize the warning signs. According to the PHOP staff, conversations about dying, a change in personality, or low self-esteem are notable signs that a Sailor may need support. 

“I think sometimes we can be afraid that we will offend the shipmate by asking if he/she feels like they want to hurt themselves; that we are getting 'too personal',” said Monica Turner, an Outreach Team Member for PHOP REDCOM JAX. “However, even if this is true, and the Sailor is offended, the individual will know someone is concerned about them, and it might make the difference between life and death. Another concern may be the fear of 'getting it wrong' and 'making things worse,' if a shipmate offers help. No one has to do this alone. The shipmate assisting is not the one that will make the final decision on whether the Sailor needs a psychological assessment or hospitalization. All the shipmate needs to do is to stay with the Sailor needing assistance and pass them onto a corpsman or a unit leader." She finished with this piece of wisdom: "A Sailor would not leave his shipmate behind in a dangerous situation.” 

To learn more about PHOP services or to connect with them, you can call 1-866-578-(PHOP)7467. You can also visit their Facebook page at https://facebook@BUMEDPHOP . PHOP is not a crisis hotline. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. 

For a comprehensive list of mental health resources available to service members and their families, visit: