Story by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman John Hetherington
Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Benjamin Crossley

It’s the third leading killer of service members, but coping programs, medical treatment and shipmate intervention have kept it off the John C. Stennis deck plates.

Suicide claimed the lives of 46 Sailors in 2009, and 38 last year, according to statistics published on Navy Personnel Command’s website. This number is low when compared with the fleet’s 430,000 active duty and ready reserve Sailors, but suicide prevention is a Navy priority.

“Every life matters, every Sailor counts, and every shipmate is needed to help,” said Stennis’ Staff Chaplain Lt. Robert Wills.

Stennis Sailors can help prevent suicide by following three basic steps.

The Navy’s Ask, Care, Treat (ACT) program promotes helping individuals who may be contemplating suicide.

“It’s okay to ask, ‘Are you feeling suicidal?’” said Wills. “It’s actually giving the person an opportunity to speak about what they’re feeling. Care means allowing them to talk through the difficulties they’re having.”

The last step, treat, suggests getting a suicidal Sailor the help they need from a qualified source, like a chaplain or psychologist.

“If you see something out of the ordinary with a shipmate, ask them what’s going on,” suggests Lt. Darcy Sowards, Stennis psychologist and suicide prevention coordinator. “Report any extraordinary behavior to the chain of command, to Medical Department or to a chaplain. If there’s concern, it’s best to act on it, not ignore it.”

This Sailor-to-Sailor intervention is possible as shipmates work together on a day-to-day basis and can recognize when something is wrong.

“No matter where you are, there are people who have a sense of hopelessness,” said Wills. “It’s hopelessness with finances