3 things you can do to be there for every sailor, every day
Many Sailors are preparing for upcoming Personal Change of Station (PCS) moves this summer, a transition that can bring about as much stress as it does excitement.
Transitions can mean disruption to daily routines and separation from one’s social and support networks (think exhausting and isolating crosscountry drives for a PCS move, or transferring as a geobachelor).
Even for experienced PCS pros who are eagerly awaiting the next chapter in their careers and lives, moves can be tough-particularly when they’re occurring during otherwise stressful times. The likelihood of making a bad or irrational decision is higher during transition periods, so identifying resources early is vital to keeping a shipmate healthy and mission-ready. Building resilience and preventing suicide requires each of us to be actively engaged and communicate with each other. Here are three things you can do to help your shipmates thrive through life’s unpredictable moments, not just survive:
1. Get involved. You may know bits and pieces about your shipmate’s life outside of the work center but may feel as though you don’t know enough to make a difference. Even though your buddy may casually dismiss his or her problems, or may not discuss them at length, take a moment to ask how he or she is doing and actively listen. If he or she indicates that there are other issues going on (relationship or family tension, financial worries, apprehension about career changes, feelings of hopelessness, etc.), don’t be afraid to reach out and offer your support. Encourage him or her to speak with someone, perhaps a chaplain or trusted leader, before the situation becomes overwhelming. Getting assistance early is vital to ensuring that stressors don’t turn into crises, especially when a Sailor is starting a new chapter in life.
2. Don’t hesitate to reach out to others to “connect the dots.” While a shipmate may seem to have it all under control on the outside, it’s important to remain vigilant and pay attention to even the smallest signals that something isn’t right, particularly as a buddy is leaving a familiar environment and is heading to a new one. You may not be able to tell if a shipmate is or isn’t in crisis. If you notice anything out of the norm for a shipmate-whether it’s something he or she said jokingly or seriously, changes in attitude or daily behaviors and routines-break the silence and speak with others who know him or her well (a unit leader, roommate, family member or friend). They may have noticed the same cues or observed some that you weren’t aware of. Be the first to step up and start the conversation. By openly communicating to piece things together, you’re helping to “connect the dots” and facilitate the intervention process if a potentially serious situation is evolving.
3. Remind a shipmate that he or she is still a part of the team. Social connectedness, unit cohesion and purpose strengthen resilience and serve as protective factors against suicide during stressful times. Though a shipmate may be detaching from your command-whether to PCS, leave the Navy, or any other reason-let him or her know that you’re still there for support and that you care about his/her well-being. Be sure that you have your shipmate’s contact information, ask about his or her upcoming plans (travel dates, pit stops/checkpoints, etc.) and then check with them on their progress often. Since your shipmate will be out of your line of sight, it’s important to ensure that key players remain engaged with him or her so that your buddy doesn’t lose the protection that a sense of community can provide. When Sailors feel as though they’re out of the “inner circle” (their network of friends, peers, or colleagues) it can have a detrimental effect on their sense of purpose and belonging. No matter where your shipmate is, they should never feel alone.
Communication shouldn’t start when you’re concerned about a shipmate or when someone is getting ready to leave for a new duty station. In order to have meaningful communication there must be trust, which is built over time. Remember to take a moment and ask your shipmates how things are going-and actively listen. Through simple acts of kindness, you can be there for “every Sailor, every day.”
It’s okay to speak up when you’re down. Help is always available. Call the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (choose option 1) or visit www.veteranscrisisline.net.