Losing a shipmate to suicide is one of the most difficult situations Sailors may face. Those left behind may experience immediate or delayed emotional reactions including guilt, anger, shame or betrayal, and no two people will grieve the same. In the aftermath, finding balance between the grief process and mission demands can be challenging. It’s important for our Navy family to recognize how postvention efforts can serve as psychological first aid to shipmates and loved ones.
Postvention refers to actions that occur after a suicide to support shipmates and family affected by the loss. Because each situation is unique, examples of postvention efforts can include thoughtfully informing Sailors about the death to minimize speculation, one-on-one outreach to those most affected by the suicide, encouraging utilization of support resources and monitoring for reactions.
For a command that has experienced a suicide, fostering a supportive environment is vital to sustaining psychological and emotional resilience. For many, the impact of suicide will not go away just because the memorial service is over and duty calls again. The Five Principles of Resilience can assist with the recovery process following a suicide, helping to promote a healthy grieving process and a return to mission-readiness.
- Predictability – While suicide is not necessarily predictable, a command’s commitment to a healthy and supportive environment can be. Encourage your shipmates to speak up when they are down, and reassure them that seeking help is a sign of strength. Ensure that support resources are in place and accessible (chaplain, medical, Deployed Resiliency Counselor and/or SPRINT team).
- Controllability – After a suicide, it’s normal for things to seem out of your control. The grieving process may seem overwhelming at times. Be patient with yourself and with those around you who may be grieving differently. To allow yourself time to regroup, it’s ok to set limits and say “No” to things that may hamper the healing process.
- Relationships – Our connections with peers and loved ones can be protective factors during challenging times, providing us with a sense of community, hope and purpose. Take a moment out of each day to ask how your shipmates are doing—and actively listen. Start the conversation. It’s all about being there for “Every Sailor, Every Day.”
- Trust – Trust plays a critical role in withstanding adversity and extends beyond individual relationships. Similar to predictability, the presence of trust before and after a tragedy promotes a supportive command climate and can help preserve mission readiness while promoting emotional health.
- Meaning – Following a suicide, it’s common to search for answers. While you may never understand the events leading up to the tragedy, leaning on the support of your shipmates and leaders can help strengthen the recovery process by sharing meaning and fostering hope.
The Defense Centers of Excellence has a comprehensive fact sheet with the common emotions experienced while coping with a suicide, in addition to suggestions on how individuals can navigate those emotions.
For additional suicide postvention resources and support, visit: