According to the World Health Organization, about one million people commit suicide each year. For the Navy, September is suicide prevention month, which aims to raise awareness that suicide is preventable, improve education about suicide and decrease the stigma around getting help.
Around the world, our country, our Navy and even USS Nimitz (CVN 68), suicide is an issue that shouldn’t be shrouded in silence. You can know what suicide is, even know the signs, but to know if someone is thinking about suicide, you have to really know that person. That is why the Navy has launched a new initiative: every Sailor, every day. Its purpose is to encourage Sailors and family members to strengthen connections and bonds with those around them.
YN1 Cindy Coulter
Yeoman 1st Class Cindy Coulter, from Hotchkiss, Colo., is a Sailor who took the initiative and went the extra step to help others struggling with thoughts of suicide. She ultimately helped one of her Sailors and a close family member of her’s overcome the hold of suicidal ideations.
For Coulter, the decision to help others was easy.
“I cared about them,” said Coulter. “I cared about the decisions they were making. I cared about their tomorrow.”
Even though the decision to help was an easy one, going about the actual process proved to be more difficult.
“People sometimes don’t want to talk about it,” she said. “Especially when they’re depressed or contemplating suicide.”
Approaching someone she was already close to was easier for Coulter than approaching a shipmate she didn’t know as well.
“I approached it a little different,” she said. “The other one worked for me in the military. I figured out ways I could talk to her one on one.”
Forming bonds and showing someone you care is one way you can help someone dealing with suicide. Knowing the signs is another way to help prevent suicides.
“At first I asked if they were okay,” said Coulter. “Of course both times with both individuals they said yes, they were okay, but I knew different because their gestures and body language said differently.”
“They were a different person, had different characteristics. The things that they said were concerning.”
Some of the signs Coulter witnessed from her shipmate were: isolating herself, being late to work and acting out of character.
The process for Coulter was not a quick one. She spent days talking and trying to understand the individuals. She was met with resistance at first when she asked questions like, “How do you think other people would feel?” or “How do you think this would be without you?”
“I would just pose the questions back to them that they were feeling,” said Coulter. “There was a lot of silence and there was a lot of pause. A lot at first of, ‘well I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t care’ or ‘they wouldn’t care anyway.’ And then slowly but surely we were able to think of ways to turn things around, get them some help and refer them over to people that they trusted. I really wanted the outcome to be positive for them and feel good about their decision.”
Although Coulter’s loved one still deals with depression on occasion, her family combats this by keeping an eye on them and offering support.
The Sailor that Coulter helped through depression and thoughts of suicide is doing much better now.
“I get letters from the service member all the time thanking me for that moment,” she said “She was in a dark place and didn’t think anyone cared and didn’t think she wanted to live this life anymore. We remained close. She knows now that if she ever feels a certain way that it’s important to talk things out.”
Depression is commonly a factor in suicide.
“They coincide tremendously,” said Coulter. “Usually it starts out with depression, and a lot of people spiral so much so that they don’t know how to get out. And now, it’s the only way that they know. Recognizing you have depression is the first step to getting help.”
The number one thing Coulter stresses, for both those suffering from suicidal ideations or not, is communication.
“It’s important to talk to somebody,” she said. “Whether it’s a friend or a shipmate or a family member. It’s important to talk it out. Don’t be afraid to talk to somebody about it. We’re all human. Then turn around and try to help others.”
RP3 Casey Niedorf
Sailors lead a life that requires them to be away from land and loved ones for long periods of time. Last year Nimitz spent eight-and-a-half months out at sea for a Western Pacific deployment. Although deployment is over, Nimitz still has missions, standards and qualifications to keep up, which is why Nimitz has departed from Naval Station Everett, Wash. on three separate occasions for underways lasting roughly three weeks each.
Being away from family not only puts a toll on service members, but their families as well. Because a lot of Sailors don’t have much control over where they are stationed and live, military couples often end up in long distance relationships at some point in their military career.
This is the case for Religious Programs Specialist 3rd Class Casey Niedorf, from North Pole, Alaska. Nimitz was in Pearl Harbor nearing the end of its 2013 deployment when Niedorf’s girlfriend, Brianna, confided in her about thoughts of suicide.
“There were lots of signs before hand,” said Niedorf. “I think that the feeling was there, but the actual intent wasn’t quite there. She had been dealing with depression.”
Luckily, Niedorf was able to contact Brianna’s mother, who was able to help.
“A lot of it is depression,” said Niedorf. “It gives you those feelings like numbness and sadness, and when you’re constantly feeling like that, there’s a lot of guilt. So the thought process of people with suicidal ideations is ‘Would it really matter if I was alive anymore?’”
Up to that point, Niedorf had known her girlfriend dealt with depression, and even took a small dose of mood stabilizer for it, but it wasn’t until that day when Niedorf realized she needed to get her some help.
“I can only do so much,” said Niedorf. “Especially being in the Navy and a long distance relationship.”
“I really pushed for her to go get help. She was a little stubborn at first, but she did come out and do it, and she got a very positive outcome from it.”
A main reason Brianna didn’t want to seek help initially was because of the stigma associated with depression and suicide.
“There’s the outlook like you might feel you’re weak or you’re crazy,” said Niedorf. “I know Brianna said that a lot. ‘I don’t need help. I’m not crazy.’ That makes it really hard especially with guys. Because guys think, ‘Oh you’re supposed to be strong, you’re not supposed to cry.’ There’s a macho masculinity atmosphere around them. So now they need help, but guys don’t really ask for help. That’s just how guys are. That’s why males are more likely to succeed in killing themselves.”
Brianna is now doing a lot better since she became open about her depression and got help.
“A lot of it is sometimes people just really need to vent,” said Niedorf. “A lot of time when people talk about things, they can talk themselves out of suicide. I think that’s really important – when someone has that realization of, “Hold on, maybe I can handle this in a different way.’ A lot of times someone just really needs someone else to listen to him or her. Just sit down and let them talk. You don’t have to say anything. Usually it’s a pretty good outcome.”
Being a religious programs specialist, Niedorf knows how useful the chaplains’ open door policy can be.
“One thing about the chaplains is it’s completely confidential,” said Niedorf. “You don’t have to tell your chain of command. They won’t tell your chain of command. When you make an attempt though, that’s when it goes out to medical. If you just need the chaplain to talk to and you express ‘I’ve been thinking about committing suicide – of killing myself’ that stays confidential. They can help someone figure out their feelings. My first recommendation would be to talk to a chaplain.”
Even though Nimitz is home to thousands of Sailors, communicating and forming bonds with those around you is still important for suicide awareness and prevention.
“Just asking someone how their day is can be a huge thing,” said Niedorf. “This is a big deal. Hopefully there is soon to be change on the outlooks and judgment on suicide.”
For more information on the resources aboard Nimitz, visit nimitznews.wordpress.com/youcantalktome
Video by MC3(SW) Joshua Haiar