The Few, the Proud, the Alone: Cherry Point, Marine Corps combat suicide

30 Apr 2010 | Lance Cpl. Brian Adam Jones

“Suicide, at its core, is a violent crime. The classic line of thinking on this violence is that there is deep-seeded anger, which forces one to react violently,” said Dr. A. Kwasi Faluke, a psychiatrist with the mental health clinic at Cherry Point’s Naval Health Clinic. “When the reaction is turned inward, the result is suicide; when it is projected outward, we tend to see homicide.”

According to a 2005-2006 study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in any given two-week period, more than one in every 20 people suffers from depression.

Sadness, like all emotions, is universal. Unfortunately, a large portion of the world has seen its sadness transition into something worse.

For some, depression can become an even nastier animal; one that leaves its victims feeling smothered and without options, said Faluke.

Only four months into 2010, a rate of one suicide per month  aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point than any other Marine Corps installation has many troubled and grasping for answers.

“After someone commits suicide, their friends, family and command always wonder why,” said Navy Lt. Philip J. Nieto, the deputy chaplain for the station chapel. “If those people realize there had been warning signs before the incident, that ‘why?’ can easily turn into a ‘what if?’”

The questions surrounding the recent suicides have not come with easy answers, as they all appear completely unconnected.

“They are totally unrelated,” Nieto said. “Suicide is an individual item, not a communal one. Stressors that can push someone to that point are all internalized and handled differently by everyone.”

Statistics on the victims reveal only that there is no pattern. The victims range in age from 19 to 33, from enlisted to officers, from married to single. Their methods range from gunshots and hangings to walking into traffic.

“I wish there was a common thread,” said Cmdr. David A. Shirk, the chaplain for Marine Aircraft Group 14. “It would help us understand why this is happening.” 

“But these Marines have nothing in common outside of the fact that they wear this uniform, and they took their own lives,” added Shirk.

But why are suicide rates disproportionately higher in the military?

“In the Marines, you often hear the term ‘do more with less,’ that’s a very stressful notion where stress is increased but downtime is decreased,” said Faluke. “Marines are often compared to machines, but what happens if you run a machine at 90-95 percent capacity all of the time? It’s going to break.”

Working in a stressful environment, whether overseas or stateside, when paired with being apart from family members and loved ones, can be a concoction for depression.

“We know the causes of suicide; relationship, financial, legal and professional issues,” said Navy Capt. Rondall Brown, the chaplain for 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. “I would say eight out of 10 of the Marines I see and help are dealing with relationship issues. They feel helpless and hopeless, they feel like they can’t do anything to solve their problems, they can’t think clearly beyond that state of confusion.”

The Marine Corps is using a program called Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training to help individuals learn more about suicide prevention and how to recognize those who may attempt to commit suicide.

“The ASIST model was developed over 25 years ago and is the foremost program on intervention worldwide,” Brown said. “It greatly benefits key leaders’ enhanced skills to identify those struggling with suicidal issues. This training provides an additional skill set and aids in a multi-level approach addressing suicide issues.”

The program teaches people how to approach individuals who may be suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts.

“It teaches them to explore emotions in a caring way and explain how there are other options and things to live for,” Shirk said.

Exposing options and the joy of life to someone who may be suicidal can mean the difference between life and death.

 “Many of these Marines just want the pain to end,” said Nieto. “Suicide is just the only route they see at the time.”

Anyone seeking more information or wishing to speak with a professional can call the mental health clinic at 466-0500 or the station chapel at 466-4000.

Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point