Archives for category: Health Services

Story by MC3 Kevin Murphy
Photo by MC3 Benjamin Crossley

Sailors go to the dentist when they have a toothache, they go to sick call when they have a fever, but where do they go when irritated, depressed or anxious?

Stennis’ Psychologist Cmdr. Mark Heim and his Psychiatric Technician Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Aida Santell are on call 24 hours a day to help Sailors deal with mental health and personal issues.

“Over the last decade, there has been an increase in emphasis of mental health to make sure Sailor’s heads are taken care of,” said Heim. “Mental health service focuses on Sailors in crisis, short-term counseling, and assisting Sailors who need help.”

Santell explained how various incidents in life, like financial struggles, or adjusting to longer working hours, may affect a Sailor without them realizing it, and if problems are not addressed properly they can grow into serious issues.

“It’s good for Sailors to be proactive, to take care of their problems before their personal life affects their professional life,” said Santell. “Early detection, self awareness and then seeking help are essential in preventing a Sailor from overreacting to everyday stressors.”

Sailors walk in to medical, fill out a questionnaire and are evaluated by Santell if they are experiencing an issue that they can’t cope with. Santell will then refer them to Heim for one-on-one sessions, or to other services which will best fit their needs.

“We assess patients by conducting screenings,” said Heim. “We take walk-ins and are willing to help any Sailor who faces an immediate crisis as well. We also help them find a solution to problems they face. The chaplains aboard the ship are a huge help too and a valuable resource for Sailors.”

The most common issues Heim and Santell help Sailors deal with are sleep deprivation, home sickness, anxiety, depression and anger.

Heim said that these are typical problems for Sailors and if someone is suffering, it is nothing to be embarrassed about.

In order to provide an environment of peer-to-peer support, the Medical department has organized anger management classes and formed a de-stress focus group for Sailors to have the opportunity to cope with the stress of being underway for a long period of time.

“It’s a good place to establish positive relationships,” said Santell. “Sailors can come seek help, blow off steam and learn to deal with issues in a positive manner. I always like to tell Sailors it’s OK to have a bad day.”

A Sailor’s mental health is equally important as their physical health when it comes to accomplishing Stennis’ mission while on deployment, although Santell and Heim are just two people, the service they provide affects thousands of Sailors.


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

Story by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dugan Flynn
Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Benjamin Crossley

The loss of watch standers and gut wrenching pain that comes from widespread sickness are problems that can be minimized by efforts taken by all hands.

The medical department and the ship’s food services divisions want to stress the importance of why the crew needs to wash and sanitize their hands as much as possible.

“We wrote around 400 light limited duty (LLD) chits during the underway in February for the virus we had been dealing with,” said Lt. Cmdr. Duneley Rochino, the Ship’s Health Promotion Officer. “The person who gets the virus that was going around is violently ill for one or two days, that effectively takes them away from their watch station. When you multiply that by 400, it makes watch standing very difficult for that period.”

Food services take as many steps as possible to help keep the number of sick people around the ship down to a minimum.

“All food handling personnel are given annual food safety briefings,” said Culinary Specialist 1st Class (SCW) Levy Obana. “If one of our food handlers are sick, we don’t allow them in the kitchen until they are better.”

Even though food services Sailors are doing all they can, it takes the help and cooperation of the entire ship to prevent the spread of illness.

“Sanitation is key, but it’s not enough,” said Obana. “Everyone must wash their hands after using the head, using hand soap. Also, after you put the sanitizer on your hands, it’s important to let it dry, and don’t touch your face or clothing or anything else, otherwise it won’t work.”

Loss of man-hours and lowered morale are not the only cost of widespread sickness such as the outbreak of Norwalk virus in February.

“When we have a lot of people getting sick like we did a few months ago, it takes money and resources away from other things we might need like preparing for deployment or other equipment so that we can replenish our medical supplies,” said Rochino.

“We went through a lot of supplies. If we don’t keep ourselves healthy, we put the ship at risk because we take money away from our warfighting capabilities.”

Rochino said Stennis is not the only ship with these issues and outbreaks of sicknesses on ships are not rare occurrences.

“This is pretty common,” said Rochino. “This has happened on carriers and cruise ships for a long time. It’s not unlikely that this could happen again.”

Despite occurrences of outbreaks within shipboard environments, all hands can take steps to stay healthy and keep the ship running without interruption.

“Any time we bring a large population together like the air wing and ship’s company in close living quarters like this, we are bound to have a group of people getting sick,” said Rochino. “We can minimize it though by keeping our hands clean.”

In the spring of 1992, a large outbreak of gastroenteritis occurred aboard USS Saratoga. Almost 600 people, or 13 percent of the 4,500 person crew, including the air wing, became ill the first 35 days before their first port call. During the February underway on Stennis, about 400 people got sick the first 20 days out at sea.

Medical department and food services would like to remind everyone to wash their hands after using the head, before eating, and as often as possible. These simple steps can prevent widespread sickness while underway.

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