CNO Adm. Gilday: Small Steps Save Lives

By Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday

September is Suicide Prevention Month, and while we should talk about this
subject year-round, it is important to me that we have a frank conversation about
this right now.

Suicide is
a tragedy that extends beyond individual Sailors. Every death by suicide —
whether it be uniformed Sailors, Navy Civilians, or families — affects our
entire Navy family, and it
is extremely troubling to me that suicide continues to be a
leading cause of death in our Navy. 

We all go through challenges and stressors
that can be difficult to talk about… But no one should feel so isolated or overwhelmed by
events that they consider suicide.

That is why it is important that we talk to
our shipmates … really talk to them.  Ask
them how they’re doing
and actively listen. Talking about our challenges, whether
they’re operational, social, or psychological, is one small act we can do every day to make all of us better. It fosters a climate of trust and encourages Sailors to ask for help
in their time of need. 

We must build that trust up and down the chain
of command to ensure Sailors feel comfortable reaching out to their leadership
and shipmates. 

Let me be clear. There cannot be BYSTANDERS in
our Navy. That is why it’s so important that WE ALL take the time to look for
potential warning signs. We need all hands on deck for this.

Right now, in your
division, your department or your command, there is someone that needs your
help, who is struggling with stress or having thoughts of suicide.

Sometimes the signs are verbal, like a Sailor
casually saying that they feel like they have no purpose or feel as though they
don’t belong. There may also be behavioral signs, like increased alcohol use or
other substance misuse, withdrawing from usual activities, or uncharacteristic
rage or anger. 

Look closely for these signs when your
shipmate is experiencing a combination of multiple stressors, including:

  • Relationship problems
  • Personal or professional loss
  • Recent career transitions
  • Disciplinary / legal issues and financial strain
  • The harmful effects of prolonged stress and chronic sleep deprivation

With many suicides, shipmates saw signs of
distress but weren’t able to recognize them as indicators of suicide risk. Trust
your gut and ACT (Ask,
Care, Treat). Use intrusive leadership, look your shipmates in the eyes, and ask,
“Are you okay?” 

I expect our leaders to build and support
Command Resilience Teams.
Along with suicide prevention coordinators, use your chaplains and embedded mental
health providers. I
want our leaders to set a tone within their commands where Sailors feel
comfortable and have the courage to ask for help without fear of judgement or
consequences. That way when Sailors do seek help, they do so confidently,
knowing they’ll receive the support and resources they need.

While we have strengthened our efforts through
initiatives like “Every
Sailor Every Day,” along with the Sailor Assistance and
Intercept for Life program, or SAIL, we have to sustain momentum beyond a
singular conversation, momentary action or the creation of a new policy.

Help is always available. Call the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), Military Crisis Line or text 838255 for free confidential support 24/7.

Be there for every Sailor, every day.


NORFOLK (Sept. 13, 2019) Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Paul Kopel and Peg Smith, health promotions staff members at the Branch Health Clinic (BHC) at Naval Station Norfolk, set up a display of 79 pairs of boots to remember the 79 Sailors who were lost to suicide in 2018 and to raise awareness for suicide prevention. “Have you seen the boots?” is an initiative to identify and remember Sailors lost to suicide and to identify what the Navy community is missing when it comes to this tragedy. (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Imani N. Daniels/Released)

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CNO Adm. Gilday: Small Steps Save Lives