MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE BARSTOW, Calif. —
As Suicide Prevention month carries on, Behavioral Health staff encourage education and awareness of the difficult topic as key elements in prevention, throughout September aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif.
“Suicide can often be a taboo subject,” explained Dawn Dialon, Substance Abuse counselor and licensed clinician with Behavioral Health. “Often people are concerned with how others will see them or treat them if they know that the person is struggling with depression or suicidal ideations. They don’t want it to impact their careers or to have someone look at them like there’s something wrong with them.”
“In some cases, they may be afraid of losing a promotion opportunity, if their superiors know that they have been diagnosed with a disorder, so they may wait until late in their careers to even pursue a diagnosis, let alone get any help,” said Carla Torres, Family Advocacy Program coordinator and licensed clinician.
Dealing directly with the taboo aspect of subjects such as depression and suicidal ideation, is an important step in being able to talk about one’s core issues, and to be able to learn new coping skills they can use at their disposal, explained James Maher, Behavioral Health Section Head and also a licensed clinician.
“We have three licensed clinicians in Behavioral Health, including myself,” Maher said. “We are all capable of conducting a suicide assessment and then connecting the individual in need to the various resources available to them. We’ve done so successfully with various people in need and have seen great long-term results as people work through our programs.”
One of the programs is called the Marine Intercept Program (MIP), which mandates phone contact, discusses resources and encourages counseling for Marines who have had Suicidal Ideation (SI) or who have made an attempt. The MIP program is not set up as a counseling program but it provides case management services and can link Marines to additional resources. In addition, in 2013 another program called the Community Counseling Program (CCP) was established. It is a voluntary counseling program for Active Duty Service Members and/ or their spouses or dependents, explained Maher. The CCP can see individuals, couples or families.
“Through Community Counseling, we usually use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help a person develop a new pattern of thinking, which has an impact on improving both feelings and an individual’s behavior,” Maher said. “If we can teach a person to change his or her thinking, we can successfully change attitudes, feelings and behaviors, and research shows that this is very effective training.”
One of the things that BH offers throughout their programs is the development of a safety plan. This plan is put into place so that if a person is struggling with suicidal thoughts, they can activate the plan and take action to remain safe.
“A Safety Plan may include several elements,” Torres said. “For instance, part of the plan is to ensure that the person isn’t left alone while they are struggling. So, they have a person stay with them, in person or on the telephone, who will keep them company as other things take place to help bring them out of that crisis moment.”
There are several levels to a proper Safety Plan. Each level is supported and interwoven with the other levels.
“In Level 1, the plan is to distract or deter the individual,” Maher said. “This might be by reading a book, going to a movie, walking around a mall. Level 2 might be to call a loved one whom they trust in order to talk. Level 3 is the crisis line, 1-800-873-TALK. There is also the option of calling Behavioral Health (see number below) during working hours or call our 24/ 7 Hotline phone number: 760-577-6484 after working hours and weekends.”
Over the last five years, there has been a steady increase in suicidal behaviors in the military and among the veteran population. It is reported that nearly 22 veterans per day successfully take their own lives.
“That is nearly one veteran committing suicide ever 65 to 70 minutes,” Maher said. “In fact, one of the risk factors for suicide is military service, unfortunately. There are many factors that contribute to that and a lot of effort is being made now through the DoD and Congress and the VA to change that. The MIP was established to help reduce the rate of suicide in the Marines. “
In the U.S., Women attempt suicide four times more than men.
Men are three times more successful in their suicide attempts because they generally use more lethal means.
Suicide by gender and military history, per year (per 100,000)
Never in military
“Depression and suicidal thoughts can lead the person to feel a sense of hopelessness and to feel as though they are a burden on others,” Maher said. “One of the things that helps is to build on their sense of belonging, whether to family, their faith, or maybe a cause. When they have a sense of belonging and a stronger sense of purpose to something like a cause for instance, then they are less likely to hurt themselves.” (Victor Frankel wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning about his experience in a Nazi concentration camp. His conclusion was that when a person has a “why” to live for, they can survive any “how”.)
“We use a strength-based program,” Torres said. “We figure out what they’re good at, and we build from those skills.”
In addition to cognitive behavioral therapy, BH Programs also offers other training, such as stress and anger management and Positive Parenting Programs. They also highlight protective factors against suicide and stress in addition to the risk factors. Whereas risk factors help detect when a person might be at a higher propensity for depression or suicidal thoughts, protective factors play a key role in lowering the risk of self-harm.
“Protective factors might be whether the person has children, are they supporting a cause, do they have good social connections and interactions such as with family, and do they have access to mental health assistance,” Dialon said. “By raising awareness, we are also able to teach people how to intervene if they or someone they know may be struggling.”
“If you or someone you know are having difficulty with emotions, having suicidal thoughts, or perhaps Post Traumatic Stress Disorder related symptoms, it’s important to know that help is available,” Maher said. “There are several avenues for immediate support should someone be in crisis: Chaplain, Community Counseling, 1-800-873-TALK are just a few. We can help someone learn to change their thinking patterns, with solution-based techniques that are proven to work.”
For more information regarding suicide awareness and prevention, contact the Behavioral Health Section at 577-6533. If you or someone you know is in crisis, reach out immediately. Help is available. You are not alone.