Communications Between Line Leaders and Mental Health Providers

2.10Upholding a culture that supports seeking help as a sign of strength is an all hands effort that is built upon trust, one of the five Principles of Resilience. This trust must be cultivated between Sailors and their leaders through ongoing engagement and support, which will in turn help Sailors trust in the many resources available to them should they need additional care.

As we continue to make progress in breaking down the barriers that may prevent Sailors from seeking help for psychological health concerns, commanders must ensure that they are acting in ways that support Sailor wellness while enhancing unit readiness. To that end, Navy Suicide Prevention and the Bureau of Navy Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) recommend that all commanders familiarize themselves with the policies in place to balance their need to monitor the welfare of their unit with the confidentiality protections that medical providers must adhere by in the best interest of Sailors. In order for Sailors to gain maximum benefit from mental health care services, they must feel reasonably certain that the details they share with a provider will remain private, helping to mitigate the potential decision to not to seek assistance out of fear of consequences. Line leaders and providers share in the responsibility of upholding Sailors’ rights and promoting recovery.

Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) 6490.08 provides guidance on information flow to balance the challenges between patient-provider confidentiality and the rights of commanders, outlining the level of detail a commander can access to ensure the well-being of their unit members and maximize unit readiness. Based on this instruction, BUMED’s Psychological Health Advisory Board has developed a graphic outlining communications between the line and medical communities which is now available on the Suicide Prevention website. This graphic provides at-a-glance information on topics such as notification to commands, clarification of the minimum notification standard, best practices for sharing mental health information and additional resources. This tool is not only useful for commanders to facilitate a closer understanding of the decision making process providers must adhere to, but for key personnel (such as suicide prevention coordinators) to help dispel misperceptions among their shipmates regarding mental health treatment.

To facilitate productive dialogue—and trust—between providers and commands, line leaders should seek to develop ongoing relationships with local health providers. Proactive discussion about policies and procedures will better serve both the commander and provider when making key decisions and determining ongoing support needed for Sailors during and beyond the reintegration process. Most importantly, Sailors will feel more comfortable seeking the resources available to them knowing that their leadership has a full understanding of what can and cannot be discussed. This is yet another way we can take proactive measures to improve the lines of communication and support every Sailor, every day.

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