MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
All military members are trained to look for signs in their brothers and sisters in arms that could indicate depression or suicidal thoughts and to take action if they encounter Marines or Sailors experiencing these problems. However, said Navy Lt. Juliana Simmons, not all cases are the same.
“Sometimes there are no warning signs that someone is thinking of killing him or herself,” said Simmons, the mental health department head for Naval Health Clinic Cherry Point. “Many People suffer when someone commits suicide, and the impact of these events is felt for extended periods of time by all who knew that individual.”
There were 349 completed suicides in the military last year, an increase from previous years. That number exceeds the number of combat casualties over the same period, said Simmons. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among veterans. It is estimated that 1 in every 5 individuals who dies by suicide in the U.S. is a veteran, said Simmons.
Simmons said there are many resources available to those who struggle with suicide. These assets include mental health counseling through Marine Corps Community Services, Fleet and Family Support Centers Military One Source and hotlines for those who need to talk to professional counselors or fellow Marines any time of day or night.
“These issues are treatable and no one needs to continue to suffer on their own,” said Simmons. “Don’t be afraid to ask a person for help. Or if it is someone you think maybe suffering, don’t be afraid to ask if they are thinking of hurting themselves.”
According to an MCCS website, suicide is the second leading cause of death in the Marine Corps.
Some signs to look for are feelings of hopelessness, giving away personal items and talking about ways of committing the act.
There are two things a person begins to feel as they move closer to thoughts of suicide, said Navy Capt. Ron Brown, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing chaplain. “A person will get so focused on a bad issue that they can’t see around, over or under it. They begin to feel hopeless like there is no way to get around this problem.
“Then they begin feeling helpless,” he said. “When someone feels this way, there isn’t much time. People who feel this way will believe no one can help them.”
Sgt. Maj. Holly Prafke, the sergeant major of Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron., said as the senior leader of a unit of roughly 1,000 Marines this is something she takes very seriously.
“This affects me differently with every suicide,” said Prafke, who has been affected by more than 10 Marine suicides throughout her 29-year career. “Some were friends, acquaintances and others were Marines junior to me. Every one of them has left me with the question, ‘Why?’ It is a long-term answer to a short-term problem.”
Suicide affects Marines left behind in different ways, said Prafke. “They are sad when it is a close friend, angry when it is for no good reason and shocked when it is the Marine who has the good life.”
Prafke said all Marines have problems, but there are people who can help.
“There is hope, not only through God, but through friends and Marines around you,” said Brown. “We can offer you hope, help and healing. There is so much potential for a person’s life that suicide is destroying.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call the DSTRESS hotline at 877-476-7734 or the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255.