Last month, there was a significant decrease in the SAIL referral rate. There is concern that commands are not submitting referrals due to the COVID-19 crisis. Now more than ever, the Navy Suicide Prevention Program is encouraging commands and Suicide Prevention Coordinators (SPCs) to continue submitting SAIL referrals following instances of suicide-related behaviors (SRBs). SAIL services are critical during this crisis and commands must continue to submit referrals. Due to COVID-19 operations, caring contacts have transitioned from in-person contacts to telephonic contacts, but SAIL Case Managers are still standing by to assist Sailors.
Sailors sometimes do not speak up about their feelings of hopelessness or emotional distress prior to an SRB because they fear judgement and other negative perceptions. The Navy created the SAIL Program to provide a support network that assists Sailors in navigating resources. Participation in SAIL initiates a series of caring contacts during the first 90 days after an SRB to ensure the Sailor has ongoing resources and support. SAIL is not therapy and does not replace therapy or the care the Sailor may receive from medical and chaplains. It is risk assessment, safety planning and a link to all the additional resources that Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) offers to support our Sailors.
The SAIL Program launches into action when a command notifies their SPC when an SRB occurs. The SPC then contacts the Navy Suicide Prevention Program, which forwards the Sailor’s information to Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC). CNIC contacts the appropriate FFSC Case Manager, who first reaches out to the command, and then reaches out to the Sailor to offer SAIL. SAIL case managers help Sailors understand, choose and engage with resources they need. Sailors are empowered to strengthen their coping skills throughout the process.
Although risk factors associated with SRBs do not cause or predict suicide, several relate to social connection:
- Lack of social support and sense of isolation
- Loss of relationship or significant personal loss
- Feeling like a burden to others, helplessness
If you hold a leadership position, be sure to actively listen to your Sailors with the intent to understand, not just respond. After someone experiences an SRB, one of the most important things they need is support. Support from leadership is critical at this time. Remaining transparent with others in discussing thoughts of suicide or other forms of self-harm openly promotes help-seeking behavior. Facilitating positive and ongoing dialogue around stress helps empower proactive self-care.
Psychological health is just as critical to readiness as physical health. Feeling connected to others can help reduce the isolation of suicidal thoughts, which often stem from a desire to stop intense pain rather than a desire to die. Leaders at all levels of the Navy contribute to their shipmates’ understanding of resources and command climate. Whether you’re a deckplate leader, front-line supervisor or commander, investing in relationships with your team through mentorship and other forms of social connection helps create an environment where all Sailors feel heard and valued. We all play a part in creating a supportive environment where those who need help have the courage to seek help and feel heard.
To learn more about the SAIL Program and access additional resources for leaders, visit this website.
If you or someone you know is in need of immediate assistance, the Military Crisis Line is available 24/7. Call 1-800-273-8255 (Option 1), text 838255 or visit http://www.militarycrisisline.net for free and confidential support.