Marine Corps Base Quantico, VA --
As the sun began to crest over the horizon at Quantico Aug. 31, Marines aboard Quantico were getting a head start at the front gate of the base in raising awareness about September being Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. To emphasize the importance of the observance, Lt. Gen. Michael Rocco, deputy commandant of Manpower & Reserve Affairs (M&RA) personally greeted everybody passing through the entrance of the “Crossroads of the Marine Corps” and also passed out important information to each Marine, sailor and civilian Marine in an effort to emphasize that the Marine Corps cares about their family and their safety.
Specifically, Rocco and Sgt. Maj. Troy Black of M&RA joined Security Battalion at the front gate, shaking the hand of every Marine, sailor and civilian entering base and personally handing out the DSTRESS Line contact number.
The Marine Corps DSTRESS Line (1-877-476-7734) provides 24-hour, anonymous phone, online chat and referral services using a “Marine-to-Marine” contact system. It is important to note the helpline is not just for suicide prevention, but is also for those dealing with stress.
“I’ve always believed in the mission statement ‘People Always’ and where my schedule might be busy, it is never too busy to take some time off and connect with our Marines, sailors and civilian community,” Rocco said
Rocco believes by building the bridge between himself and the base community, it establishes a connection for people to feel comfortable using the resources provided.
“Yes we can put the word out in these grand town hall meetings in front of hundreds of Marines, but they also need to know that we are care enough to be out here, meeting them one-on-one and letting them know we care about their personal safety, their professional career and their personal lives,” Rocco said.
M&RA personnel weren’t the only ones aboard base informing the base community about their role in suicide prevention. Sgt. Maj. Charles Williams, Marine Corps Installations National Capital Region-Marine Corps Base Quantico (MCINCR-MCBQ) sergeant major and Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS) civilians Mary Jo Betyak-eisler, clinical counselor aboard Quantico and Teshia Hackler, Family Advocacy Program clinical supervisor, were ready to make sure every noncommissioned officer (NCO) was prepared to help a Marine in need.
Williams organized a Professional Military Education (PME) lecture for NCOs to learn about the Stress First Aid (SFA) method from Betyak-eisler and Hackler and prepare NCOs to recognize the signs of stress and when help may be needed by Marines in their command.
“Life is going to happen and Marines are going to get stressed, but if we can be proactive rather than reactive we can truly help and make a world of change,” Williams said. “The more aware we become of the stressors the more effectively we will be able to direct them to the necessary tools used to lead them back to recovery.”
Last year Betyak-eisler was proactive in her approach to help teach Marines by developing and implementing a campaign to raise awareness aboard base about the SFA method as well as other tools, which led MCINCR-MCBQ to be honored with its first ever suicide prevention awareness award.
According to Williams, proper training provides a chance for NCOs to set an example for their junior Marines and break the stigma that getting help is a bad thing.
Williams believes everyone has issues and NCOs are no exception to the rule. He said if the master sergeant can go and get help and still perform, the junior Marines will follow their lead.
Betyak-eisler believes stress impacts everyone differently, but when speaking about combat and operational stress, which stems from military activities, it is said to be harder to detect because the stress is what makes Marines mission ready, but also causes tension and strain.
However, according to Betyak-eisler, it is not just the combat and operational stressors that affect Marines, but the stressors that stem from their lives outside of the Corps.
“Certain situations can cause severe stress ranging from the increased workload and responsibility of a Marine to the grief that that comes from the loss of a loved one,” Betyak-eisler said. “This can also include a service member facing physical or sexual harm or the threat of death. In most cases it can be a combination of multiple versions of these stressors.”
Life threatening stressors can include a car accident, sexual/physical assault or return from combat. Grief and loss may include the death, divorce or separation from a loved one. This could even include the loss of a promotion or pet.
Then there is the inner conflict which includes anything that goes against someone’s morals or, in other words, a mental battle between right and wrong. But, the most basic stressor is the wear and tear or the effect of working long hours. Betyak-eisler said put any of these scenarios together and it could be severe.
As the Marines communicated with Betyak-eisler at the PME they gave examples of Marines exhibiting signs of stress ranging from change in behavior and performance to verbally indicating stress.
Other indicators of stress can include sloppiness in a Marine’s appearance in their “boots ‘n’ utes” to a loss of interest in the mission or personal conversation.
Betyak-eisler believes Marines could use the SFA to properly vet the overwhelming stress that often interferes with mission readiness and help Marines quickly resume action.
SFA is also a useful method for NCOs to probe for suicidal tendencies within their command.
By receiving SFA training, Marines can recognize quickly those individuals who are reacting to a wide range of stressors in their work and personal lives and are in need of interventions to promote healing.
Offering a spectrum of one-on-one or group interventions to ensure safety reduces the risk for more severe stress reactions. In addition, it promotes recovery and assists the Marine in returning to full function and well-being.
The SFA is built to resemble the idea of, “see something, say something,” or simply being aware of the habits of people around them. It emphasizes a seven ‘C’ process—Check, Coordinate, Cover, Calm, Connect, Competence and Confidence.
“If you believe someone is suicidal, don’t hesitate to ask out of fear that you might be putting the idea in their head, because you never know what might be going on in other peoples’ lives until you ask.” Betyak-eisler said speaking on the first ‘C’. “Be intentional when asking about someone’s emotional state and be ready for the fallout.”
Betyak-eisler and Hackler believe it is also important for NCOs, when entering the Coordination phase, to meet with some of the specialists and counselors aboard base so they can personally recommend individuals to speak with in the case of an emergency.
“These Marines need to know the professional they speak with is a trusted support structure that will help them get back to full combat readiness,” Hackler said. “As NCOs you need to show every bit of intentionality possible with your junior Marines as someday they might ask you to be in their trust structure.”
According to Williams, NCOs have a responsibility to set a good example for their junior Marines and connect with them, as there isn’t a single Marine that is above the feeling of stress.
He added that it is the responsibility of every Marine to take care of themselves both mentally and physically, thus calming themselves and refocusing on what is important so they may once again find confidence in their work.