The last few years have seen a decrease in suicide among the Navy and other active service members. It is not entirely clear, yet, whether the pandemic has any relation to this decrease in deaths. However, the number of suicides among active military members, including those in the Navy, is again increasing. The fact is that younger military members have higher numbers of suicide. According to the US Naval Institute, the general population experiences more suicides among middle-aged men by firearms. In the Navy, “the largest percentage of suicides – 37.9 % – were among active-duty sailors between 21 and 24 years old…The next highest- 27.6 percent- were among sailors 25-29 years old. The Department of Defense also received 243 entries for attempted suicide from Navy sailors in 2021.” According to the Association of Defense Communities newsletter, 70 sailors died in 2022.

Like other branches of the armed services, many members in psychological struggles are afraid to seek mental health help. Here are a few truths to counter myths about careers and receiving support:

  • Less than 1% of security clearance denials and revocations involve psychological health concerns
  • Seeking help for personal wellness and recovery may favorably impact a person’s security clearance
  • Not all psychological health treatment is required to be reported
  • All reporting is subject to privacy laws

Both peers and leaders must discuss suicidal thoughts. Such openness helps individuals suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts. Rarely does suicide happen without warning and other signs.

People who suffer from suicidal thoughts feel enormous stress about one or many things. They cannot see a way past the pressure and desperately want to make the pain stop. By not seeking help, problems can worsen. Individuals who are stressed to the point of being overwhelmed need developing resilience.

Components of Resilience:

  • Controllability: the ability to cope with response to stressors
  • Predictability: The ability to respond to the unexpected
  • Relationships: Strong connections to family, friends, and communities keep individuals strong during difficult times.
  • Trust: The ability to trust others while confiding in them during critical moments. The ability to seek help before the crisis spirals out of control
  • Meaning: Having a strong sense of purpose provides a path to navigating crisis

There are always signs before a person successfully commits or attempts to commit suicide. These include:

  • Mood changes
  • Isolation
  • Substance abuse
  • Poor work performance
  • Lack of energy
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Thoughts of no future
  • Aggressive behavior

A person who is considering suicide and shares their concern about lack of value, inability to manage, or feeling shame and guilt about the past should always be taken seriously. As a source of support to the person in pain, always take him/her/them seriously, never diminish his/her/their concerns, never delay in helping the individual get mental health care, and if possible, remove means of self-harm. As stated earlier, firearms continue to be used by most service members committing or attempting suicide. The need for additional firearm safety cannot be overstated. A sailor who is speaking about suicide should have his/her/their firearm safely locked away from easy access. In Israel, the Defense Forces banned firearms from being brought home, and the suicide rate dropped by 40% (2010). According to the Military Times, most guns of service members are privately owned, and the presence of a firearm increases the risk that it will be used in a suicide.

The Brandon Act (2022)

Under this law, service members are no longer obligated to inform their superiors about seeking mental health care, nor must they seek treatment from a military medical provider. Today, the armed services are working to implement the provision in the act, but many in Congress are frustrated by the slow pace of the armed service implementation.

Culture of Machoism

The Brandon Act, named after a 21-year-old Navy petty officer third class who killed himself at the Naval Station Norfolk, VA, left notes describing hazing and bullying by members and leaders of his helicopter squadron. Researchers also know this culture has high-traditional masculinity, including competitiveness, emotional restriction, and aggression.

“Within the U.S. military, rigid masculine gender norms that exalt stoicism and devalue emotionality – due to fear of being perceived as weak – often inhibit men’s ability to cope with trauma properly. The heightened pressure to appear unaffected by traumatic events and limited access to critical health services such as psychologists and counselors can result in a lack of help-seeking behavior and an increased likelihood of perpetrating violence, particularly for men. Military constructions of gender have harmful effects not only on the individual health and well-being of Service members and veterans but also on the military’s ability to recruit and retain personnel.”

Other studies include suicide among women and minorities, in and out of the services, which cannot be ignored when developing suicide prevention programs or treating attempted suicide. “[T]he application of evidence-based suicide prevention strategies must be tailored to the unique needs and contexts represented by important subpopulations, particularly those at higher risk for suicide including women veterans under 35, American Indian/Alaska Native veterans, LGBTQ+ veterans, survivors of military sexual trauma, white veteran males over the age of 55, geographically remote veterans, and enlisted Service members under 30.”

Overall, commanders have not been able to implement changes for active Navy members to obtain mental health services, nor has the Dept. of Defense established guidance to address a commander’s responsibility when a suicide or an attempted suicide occurs. Additionally, little training occurs around the issues of suicide, attempted suicide, or other mental health disorders. The General Accounting Office found that the DOD was short of staff because it had not developed strategies for hiring challenges.

Resources for those sailors in need of help:

  • The Military Crisis Line: call 1-800-273-8255, ext. 1; or text “273Talk” to 839863
  • Military OneSource: 1-800-342-9647
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 988 — call or text

Since the Brandon Act allows for treatment outside military providers, mental health and substance abuse treatment might be available to you or your loved one. Call the military hotlines mentioned above and contact our treatment facility if your insurance applies. Either way, do not suffer alone in silence. Reach out and get help today.