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SafeTALK: USS Nimitz’ Fight Against Suicide

Suicide is a serious issue that doesn’t only affect the person directly involved, but also can alter the morale of an entire command.

USS Nimitz (CVN 68) provides suicide-awareness training to all of its Sailors on board through SafeTALK, a mandatory half-day alertness training that teaches Sailors how to become suicide-alert helpers.

The class is based around the premise that every person has the ability, and responsibility, to be aware of those around them and offer help if necessary. This philosophy is reflected in the name of the course. The ‘Safe’ stands for Suicide Alertness For Everyone, and ‘TALK’ stands for Tell, Ask, Listen, Keep safe.

“We’re in a very high risk industry for suicide, because we work abnormal hours and can be away from our families for months at a time,” said Religious Programs Specialist 2nd Class Casey Niedorf, one of the SafeTALK instructors on board Nimitz. “The only way to differentiate between someone being in the dumps and thinking about suicide is you just have to ask, that’s the only way.”

Niedorf and her team are responsible for teaching SafeTALK to every Sailor on Nimitz.

Niedorf said Sailors not being aware of someone who is potentially suicidal is a big problem on board and a problem in general. The people around you might have personal issues that may not be easy to recognize to the untrained eye.

“Most people with thoughts of suicide don’t truly want to die, but are struggling with the pain in their lives,” said Lt. Cmdr. Robert Johnson, a chaplain on board Nimitz. “Through their words and actions, they invite help to stay alive. SafeTALK trains people to recognize these invitations and take action.”

People might not act because they don’t know what signs they are supposed to be looking for, said Niedorf.

“Afterwards people realize ‘Oh, that’s why they were acting weird’,” said Niedorf. “At that point it’s too late. People should be looking for anything generally outside of somebody’s normal behavior like excessive drinking, being more quiet than usual, etc.”

Johnson said that Nimitz takes the Navy’s “One Team, One Fight” motto very seriously. By training the ship’s crew on how to recognize and help Sailors with suicidal thoughts, Johnson said he believes the ship is being proactive and setting the crew up for success.

“As a result of that, hopefully Sailors see that they aren’t alone,” said Johnson. “If they are in a time of distress, they know they can reach out to someone who genuinely cares and has the skills to help them out.”

Johnson said that Nimitz’ Religious Ministries Department has been able to identify a larger number of people who may have been suicidal, because with the training SafeTALK offers people know what to look for. It makes everyone more alert to suicidal ideations.

“Absolutely everyone is subject to suicidal ideations,” said Neidorf. “It’s all about how people handle things. Whether they’re very serious about killing themselves or the thought just flashes through their mind, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

If you or someone you know is giving signs of possible suicidal thoughts, there are many professional resources that are available to help. The chaplains on the ship are available to speak with 100 percent confidentiality. Additional educational resources are available on the Navy’s suicide prevention website at www.suicide.navy.mil. There is also the Kitsap County Crisis Line at (360) 479-3303, and the national Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

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Story by MCSA Weston Mohr

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