Summer Safety: Suicide Prevention During the 101 Critical Days of Summer

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The 101 Critical Days of Summer are always a time to focus on safety – responsible drinking, boating safety, swimming safety and more – but suicide prevention efforts aren’t always included as a focus. The causes of suicide are complex, and while seasonality and weather are not significant risk factors, researchers have observed some associations between warm weather and suicide rates. Additionally, the stresses of military moves and accompanying separation from known support networks can be very difficult during this time of year. For these reasons and more, suicide prevention efforts are an important part of summer safety.

Use caution if drinking and watch out for your shipmates if they choose to drink. Alcohol abuse has been consistently associated with suicidal behavior, according to the National Institutes of Health. Consuming alcohol can lower inhibitions, increase impulsiveness and impair judgement. Alcohol abuse can also lead to social withdrawal, and all of these attributes can lead to greater suicide risk.

Understand how to reduce access to lethal means. Reducing access to lethal means of self-harm is key if a person is at risk of suicide, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Many suicide attempts happen during a short-term crisis, so reducing access to deadly medications or to firearms is important. Always store medications and firearms safely, or remove them from the area completely if you are concerned about those nearby.

Stay connected during times of change. Relationships play an invaluable role in our lives and are one of the Principles of Resilience. During the summer, when people are coming and going as a part of Navy life, it’s easy to feel disconnected. Check in on your friends who have left and reach out to new people in your community. Help create a feeling of belongingness in those around you and for yourself.

Suicide prevention is an all-hands, year-round responsibility. If you think a shipmate is having trouble navigating stress, ACT (Ask, Care, Treat):

  • Ask directly: Are you thinking of killing yourself?
  • Show that you care by listening without judgment and offering hope. Be there.
  • Help your friend connect with a support system immediately. Contact the Military Crisis Line (call 800-273-TALK and Press 1 or text 838255), escort them to the nearest chaplain, provider or leader, or call 911 if danger is imminent. Stay in contact with your friend throughout their treatment to promote a healthy recovery.

The idea that suicides occur more frequently during the holidays is a long-perpetuated myth and one that can be harmful to prevention efforts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2016 study in The Journal of Affective Disorders reviewed 29 science articles from 16 countries and found that suicide attempts were most frequent in spring and summer. Additionally, a 2016 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found positive associations between warmer temperatures and suicide in three East Asian countries, regardless of country, age and gender. More recently, a 2018 study in the International Journal of Biometeorology examined nine major U.S. cities. Researchers found that there was a tendency toward late spring/summer peaks.

The Every Sailor, Every Day campaign has fact sheets, infographics, posters and magnets educating Sailors and families on key Operational Stress Control (OSC) concepts. Visit https://go.usa.gov/xyEBp to download materials, including the Principles of Resilience graphic and Lethal Means Safety graphics, or order them free of charge from the Naval Logistics Library.

Relationship Goals: Strengthen Connections this Summer

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It’s summer—also known as “PCS” season! Moving is stressful. Saying goodbye to old friends is tough and the process of moving can put a strain on our existing connections. When you arrive in a new place, it can take time to build new friendships, too.  However, relationships play an invaluable role in our lives and are one of the Principles of Resilience. All of our connections with others—from romantic and family relationships, to friendships and professional interactions—can shape our outlook, feelings of belongingness and ability to navigate stress. To keep your relationships strong and promote cohesion in your unit, family or community, consider these tips:

Be a good listener. Relationships are built on trust and support. Mutual understanding is important and can only be achieved through active listening. This is especially true during conflict resolution, when the listener is likely to be formulating a response rather than hearing what the speaker is saying. Focus your attention first on what the speaker is saying to you. Then, repeat what you think they’ve expressed in your own words. This opens the dialogue and allows the speaker to determine whether or not he or she feels understood, which can minimize emotionally charged responses and promote understanding. Check out the Human Performance Resource Center’s tips on active listening for more information.

Stay connected, even when apart. “Make new friends and keep the old” may be a nursery rhyme, but preserving relationships should be a priority no matter how old you are. If your buddy transfers to a new command, make an effort to regularly reach out to him or her throughout the transition phase and maintain that frequency in the future. It can be tough arriving to a new duty station, so a reminder that he or she still has friends in their corner can brighten rough days by preserving a sense of belonging. You can also strengthen your family and romantic relationships while navigating the separations that accompany Navy life. Start a book club with your partner and/or children, where you each read the same book and schedule time to “discuss” it through email or social media. Just pulled into a scenic port? Grab a photo of your loved one and snap a picture of it in a cool setting so that you can all “experience” the place together. Explore ways to stay involved in daily life as well, such as video chat sessions to help with homework or a virtual date with your partner. Find more tips on connecting during deployment here.

Communicate through the good and the bad. There is always an opportunity to foster a positive connection. When a shipmate does a good job, offer specific praise explaining what he or she did well. Acknowledging successes, big or small, can be motivating and build cohesion and trust. Conversely, when there is room for improvement, offer direct yet constructive feedback to help steer things in the right direction. Outright criticism can breakdown communication and result in diminished quality of the task at hand, as well as in your relationship.

Take the time to invest in your relationships. Lean on your shipmates for support, schedule time to speak with your leaders and confide in your family members. Having a strong support network can help you stay grounded and carry you through life’s challenges. Nurturing your relationships can help take the stress out of whatever is coming next.

For additional tips and resources to help you navigate transitions and other stressors, like U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control on Facebook and NavStress on Twitter..

 

 

Alcohol and the Mind – Mental Health Month 2019

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If you’ve ever had one drink too many, you know that alcohol affects your entire body. But how does drinking affect your mental state and the health of your brain? Many factors, such as how much and how often you drink, your age and gender, and your general health, have an impact on how alcohol affects your brain. The research is clear, though. Alcohol can affect your mental health in the short and long term.

How Alcohol Works in the Brain

Alcohol works directly on the neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are the messengers that send signals to control thought processes, behaviors and emotions. When you drink, you increase the effects of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA – and that’s what causes the slurred speech and slow movements associated with alcohol. In addition, alcohol increases the amount of dopamine released in your brain. Dopamine is the “reward” chemical, and it’s responsible for the feelings of pleasure some feel when drinking. According to American Addiction Centers , drinking alcohol also decreases your brain’s pre-frontal cortex activity. The pre-frontal cortex is your brain’s decision-making area and less activity means it’s harder to think clearly.

Short-term Mental Health Risks

Some people turn to alcohol to ease social anxiety, but those same effects can be harmful. Alcohol use can lead to lowered inhibitions and poor social judgment. You may speak or act without thinking, or feel like your emotions are out of control.

Drinking alcohol can also result in insomnia. Even minimal drinking can disrupt normal sleep patterns. Sleep is a key component of a healthy mental state.

Blackouts are one of the most damaging short-term effects of alcohol use. A blackout is a short-term memory lapse. Your behavior during the blackout may be harmful to yourself or others, but you don’t know, because you can’t remember it.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), people with a history of alcohol abuse or dependence were two to three times more likely to have an anxiety episode. At least one study from the Archives of General Psychiatry suggests that alcohol abuse may lead to an increased risk of depression. Researchers said that genetic factors may trigger major depression in some drinkers, and that social, financial and legal issues caused by drinking may also play a part in the connection.

Long-term Mental Health Risks

According the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , heavy drinking is generally considered four or more drinks in one day or eight or more drinks per week for women, and five or more drinks in one day or 15 or more drinks per week for men. Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks over two hours for women and five or more drinks over two hours for men. Heavy drinkers, especially those who drink long-term, are at risk for many health disorders. Recent research from NIAAA found that long-term heavy alcohol use resulted in pronounced brain shrinkage. The structural integrity of the white matter of the brain was significantly reduced in heavy compared to light drinkers.

Long-term alcohol overuse can lead to poor recall and the ability to form memories. An article in Scientific American recently stated “long-standing alcohol abuse can damage nerve cells and permanently impact memory and learning.”

Navy Alcohol Abuse Prevention (NAAP) encourages Sailors to make responsible choices if they choose to drink, and to take an honest look at their alcohol use. You can use the Keep What You’ve Earned Campaign’s (KWYE) Pier Pressure mobile app to take an anonymous self-check of your drinking habits. If you think your drinking is impacting your work or relationships, or if you suspect you may be struggling with addiction, the Navy’s non-disciplinary self-referral process allows you to seek help and remain an active duty Sailor. Learn the facts about self-referral in this article from All Hands Magazine.

MyNavy Family App

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Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog provided courtesy of Linda Jackson, the project manager at Naval Services Familyline. Naval Services Familyline is a volunteer, non-profit organization dedicated to serving Naval spouses across the country and the world. The Naval Services Familyline provides a network of experienced, trained volunteer spouses to mentor, consult and guide families in the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. For more information visit http://www.nsfamilyline.org.

Being a Navy spouse is not easy. The challenges and demands of my husband’s Naval career touched us all. No matter the length of time we have been serving or have served as a military spouse, it didn’t take long for most of us to figure out that the strength, support and can-do spirit that we bring to the table is a crucial pillar of support for the U.S. military’s overall success. It is when our loved ones are called to deploy, on land sea or air, that military spouses are called to a greater service. We bear the responsibilities of navigating the challenges at home by keeping our families “on course and speed.”

In the words of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson in the release of the very first Navy Family Framework in 2017, “Navy families are an integral part of our Navy team and a vital contributor to mission success.” The CNO acknowledged the many contributions of Navy families that enable the Navy to achieve maximum possible performance. It raised the bar on the commitment the Navy has made to support our families through a coordinated network of programs, services and resources. As a seasoned Navy spouse, this was music to my ears and to the ears of the Navy spouses around me.

Or as Latisha Motley, a Navy spouse of 12 years eloquently put it, “to be affirmed and valued in our important role as Navy spouses as the highest level of the Navy organization fosters a greater sense of pride for all that we do in support of our spouses and in support of our nation.”

There’s An App For That

To help deliver on that promise, the Navy launched the MyNavy Family application (an app!) in the days leading up to Military Spouse Appreciation Day, which was May 10. The MyNavy Family app was developed by the Navy’s Sea Warrior Program (PMW 240) after the Navy asked spouses for feedback about their experiences and how the Navy could help make it better. As a result, over 1,100 spouses responded, including me, via online surveys and face-to-face and online focus groups. Others participated in an app development workshop. Many of us seasoned spouses provided our input from the lens of a decade or more of military spouse experiences.

As one of the new spouses said at the workshop, “one of the biggest things I would change is putting more focus and attention on communications with spouses and significant others during deployment.”

Another spouse said, “I can be a supportive spouse and struggle. I am not going to lie and say everything is fine. I see a lot of spouses do that because there is pressure to keep it together at home.”

The Navy wanted to get it right in developing this app, and it quickly became a collaborative effort between Navy leadership, Navy spouses and several non-profit organizations actively serving the military community. The MyNavy Family app is designed to be a one-stop shop – it curates information and resources from more than 22 websites hosting Navy and DoD-sponsored family programs. The app menu is organized into 11 milestone events: New Spouse, Mentorship and Networking, Employment and Adult Education, Parenthood, Special Needs Family Support, Moving and Relocation, Service Member Deployment, Counseling Services, Recreation, Lodging and Travel, Family Emergencies, and Transition and Retirement.

This app is great for new spouses. In addition to Navy resources, spouses will have immediate access to material specifically developed by spouses, for spouses. These helpful resources provide new spouses with downloadable guidelines and classes which encompass wisdom and guidance from Navy spouses of all levels of experience who have come before them on their journey as a Navy spouse. Experienced Navy spouses will also be well-served by downloading the MyNavy Family app. Many spouses never learn about the many available programs and resources which could benefit them and their family. This app allows access at a finger’s touch.

The initial version of the app will be primarily informational. As the app matures, interactive features will be added. The MyNavy Family app can be downloaded from the Navy App Locker (www.applocker.navy.mil). There will be a built-in feedback capability to allow users the ability to make comments on the app’s performance and to provide recommendations for improvement. We want you feedback!

More To Come

The MyNavy Family App is part of a larger effort underway to build the best Navy spouse experience through the Navy Family Framework. Other efforts include improving existing family programs/websites, providing Ombudsman registry access to command leadership spouses, increasing the availability of live webinars and self-directed learning activities and the development of an official MyNavy Family website. The official website will be tied to a CAC-less page on MyNavy Portal. Volunteer spouse teams, and several non-profit organizations, are working along-side the Navy creating responsive and useful tools to help Navy spouses experience smoother journeys ahead. Because stronger families equal a stronger fleet.

Mental Health Month: Finding Work-Life Balance in the Navy

Concept of harmony and balance. Balance stones against the sea.

May is Mental Health Month and cultivating a healthy work-life balance is key to navigating the stress of Navy life. The idea of work-life balance may seem at odds with the duties of a U.S. Navy Sailor.  When the Navy calls, Sailors answer. Unpredictable schedules, lengthy hours and assignments away from home are some of the many challenges Sailors face. However, there are ways to optimize your own work-life balance, no matter what your job in the Navy.

The Effects of Chronic Stress

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is key to reducing stress and preventing burnout. When professional demands prevent you from taking time for yourself, you’re at risk of living in a state of chronic stress, and that can have major impact on your mental and physical health. A 2015 study by the British Heart Foundation found that chronic stress led to less-than-optimal health choices, including poor diets, lack of exercise and excessive drinking and smoking among millions of workers. The National Institute of Mental Health also cites digestive symptoms, headaches, sleeplessness and sadness as other potential consequences of ongoing stress.

Top Tips for Work-Life Balance

So with all these consequences at risk, how can you improve work-life balance? We’ve gathered some of the top tips, including some tips that are specifically for families and for leaders.

For Everyone:

  • Prioritize and set manageable goals. When we have goals in place, and we are able to complete them, it helps us have a sense of accomplishment and control. Setting priorities every day can help you gain clarity on what really matters. Be realistic about your workload and deadlines and communicate if you need help. Don’t forget to set personal goals as well!  Choose one personal goal and consistently take one small step towards that goal – it can help you balance work demands if you are working towards something for yourself at the same time.
  • Cut yourself some slack. You’re allowed to be human and to make mistakes. Sometimes, everything won’t get done as quickly as you’d like it. It happens to everyone. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and be kind to yourself. Ask for help and be forgiving of yourself and others.

For Sailors with Families:

  • Don’t take your work home. If possible, leave your work at work. Turn off e-mail notifications when you can – in fact, ditch the phone as much as possible. Set boundaries around what you will and won’t be available for during off duty hours and stick to them.
  • Nurture your personal network. There are a million ways to stay connected these days, so take advantage of them when you’re away from home. Whether communicating in person or electronically, give those closest to you the undivided attention they deserve. Ask questions about their days, and really listen to their answers.

For Leaders:

If you’re in a leadership role, you can help others to create a healthy work-life balance by modeling one yourself. In addition to the tips above, here are some ways to impact the way your team navigates stress and competing priorities.

  • Listen to your team. Meet with your team to discuss deadlines, workloads and overtime hours. You may not be able to change mission demands, but you can find common ground with those around you about meeting those demands. Try to set realistic expectations with your team, and listen if they are struggling under workloads that could lead to burnout. Be sure to regularly ask for feedback, and practice active listening skills when you receive it.  Focusing closely on your team’s responses will help build trust within your team, so they will be more likely to provide honest, thoughtful feedback.
  • Send them home when you can. Some days will require your whole team for long hours. Most days won’t. When possible, send people home early from time to time. You can expect them to give 100% when you really need them if you try to get them home when it counts most.

Additional Resources

The Navy Operational Stress Control (OSC) Program promotes an understanding of stress, awareness of support resources, and provides practical stress navigation tools to help build resilience of Sailors, families, and commands. OSC Mobile Training Teams (MTTs) deploy to provide face-to-face training to assist Sailors and their families with navigating stress. Learn more about these courses here.

The Navy Fleet and Family Support Program offers resources and training to support service members and their families for the physical, emotional, interpersonal and logistical demands of military life. Learn more about their programs and services here.

Military OneSource has information on specialty consultations and a variety of resources to assist with the unique challenges faced by service members and their families. Learn more on their website here.