Category Archives: Families

A Different Kind of Grief: How to Help Survivors of Suicide Loss

Walk for suicide prevention and awareness

International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is November 17. When someone loses a colleague or loved one to suicide, grief can be compounded by feelings of guilt, confusion and even anger and embarrassment. How can you help?

What You Can Do

CAPT Tara Smith, Ph.D., clinical psychologist for Navy Suicide Prevention Branch, OPNAV N171, offers these tips to help someone who is dealing with the loss of a loved one by suicide:

1. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the death. Extend your condolences, express your feelings of sorrow. Talking about the loss lets the person know you’re a safe and understanding per-son in whom they can confide.

2. Ask the survivor if and how you can help. Though they may not be ready to accept help, asking signifies that you are there—not avoiding or distancing during this tragic event. Be prepared to offer specific support, such as providing meals, offering childcare or a coffee break.

3. Encourage openness. Do your best to be non-judgmental and be prepared for a wide variety of emotional responses. There is no one way to grieve. Be accepting of however survivors need to express their feelings. It may be with silence, with sadness or even anger.

4. Be patient. Don’t set a time limit for a survivor’s grief. Complicated grief can take years to process. Moreover, don’t limit a survivor’s need to share and repeat stories, conversations or wishes. Repetition is a key factor in grief recovery.

5. Be a compassionate listener. This means resisting the urge to try to “fix” things. The greatest gift you can give someone you care about who has survived a suicide loss is your time, reassurance and love. It’s perfectly okay to not know what to say or do. Simply being present is often the best support.

Every Sailor, Every Day

Losing someone to suicide can feel very isolating, not just for the immediate family, but for members of the entire community. Be physically and emotionally present for the grieving person. Strong relationships built on trust are key principles of resilience that can promote recovery after experiencing loss.
Every member of the Navy community is responsible for contributing to a culture that supports psychological and physical health, encourages seeking help for challenges and promotes a constructive dialogue about stress and suicide.

Finding Support

There are many resources available on Navy Suicide Prevention’s website at www.suicide.navy.mil to help you communicate safely about psychological health and suicide, find support and more. Confidential help is available through the Military Crisis Line (call 800-273-TALK and Press 1 or text 838255) and your command chaplain. Additional resources for survivors of suicide loss are also available at:

New Training Helps Families Navigate Stress and Stay in the Green Zone

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Stress is characteristic of service in the Navy, with deployments, reintegration, and relocations causing tension for both Sailors and their families. The ability to efficiently navigate stress and build resilience is an integral part of maintaining mission readiness for Sailors and promoting psychological well-being. In addition to the stressors associated with military life, Navy families also deal with typical family stressors: raising children, maintaining their home, dealing with teenagers and handling conflicts with a spouse.

April is National Stress Awareness Month, and being cognizant of your stressors is essential. Stress can be helpful when it pushes us to make improvements in our lives. It can remind us of the importance of reaching out to others for support and helps us build resilience by growing and bouncing back from challenges. Adequately addressing stressors helps prevent chronic and prolonged exposure to stress and its adverse impacts on our health and overall well-being. Navy families now have a new training available from the Operational Stress Control (OSC) Program which offers numerous tools and resources to help Sailors and their families navigate stress and build resilience during and beyond the rigors of military life. This new training addresses the impact that stressors have on Navy families, focusing on challenges faced by Navy spouses, and their children with tips on how to navigate them.

The Navigating Stress for Navy Families training emerged from needs directly expressed by Sailors and commanders. The new Navy Family Framework recognizes the importance of integrating Navy spouses and families into education, awareness and support services and understands the role that they play as part of the Navy community. The Navigating Stress for Navy Families training is aligned with this framework, acknowledging that family readiness is key to mission readiness. The training is provided by veteran OSC Mobile Training Teams (MTTs) who have experienced similar challenges in military life. The training is modeled after OSC-required trainings for deck plate and senior leaders that are also delivered by these MTTs.

The course is an hour-long interactive conversation that provides useful and practical tools and techniques to families by introducing realistic scenarios. The course aims to improve families’ ability to navigate stress together by:

  • Helping to strengthen spouses, Sailors and, families;
  • Identifying problems with stress early;
  • Identifying best practices and further developing skills for building resilience and stress mitigation; and
  • Identifying available resources to help with stress issues.

Early identification of stress problems is vital. The Stress Continuum Model, depicted in the above thermometer graphic for quick reference, helps Sailors and their families readily pinpoint their stress “zone” so that they can take appropriate action, such as talking to a trusted friend when reacting to temporary stress. The earlier a Navy family identifies where they are within the Stress Continuum, the easier it is to bounce back. The goal is not to be 100% stress-free – as that is nearly impossible – but to learn how to build resilience so that stressors do not immediately move a family into the Red Zone. Sufficient sleep, open communication with loved ones, self-care and early help-seeking, are all ways to navigate stress healthily and lessen the risk of stress injury or illness.

Navigating Stress for Navy Families is currently available via in-person training. OSC and Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC) are working to develop a webinar format for the course as well. For more information or to schedule training, email oscmtteast@navy.mil or oscmttwest@navy.mil. Additional OSC resources including educational materials, policy and curricula descriptions can be found on the program’s website.

Follow OSC and the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign on Facebook and Twitter for daily tips, tricks and small acts to help you and your family stay in or get back to the Green.

Resources for Keeping Your Relationship Strong

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While many couples may have been feeling love-struck by Cupid’s arrow this Valentine’s Day, that love and affection may not necessarily mean that things are always rosy. For Sailors, the stressors that come with their Navy career can have an impact on their relationships with their significant other. Whether it’s a breakdown in communication, constant arguments, or just feeling like the spark is gone, there is always hope for rebuilding the connection and enhancing the love. Counseling can help strengthen your relationship and minimize the potential for relationship stress to impact other areas of your life and well-being.

Strengthening Relationships through Counseling

Healthy communication is a vital component of healthy and resilient relationships. The ability to express yourself clearly while also being able to listen attentively can help build trust with your partner, ensuring that you both feel secure and validated. A great setting for this communication is in counseling, where licensed therapists offer unbiased facilitation of discussion among partners to help you develop practical skills. This can include talking through thoughts and feelings, and exploring different ways to think or act in the relationship. Counseling can provide a safe space to proactively work through the challenges of a new or long-time marriage, a relationship that’s been strained by long deployments and frequent transitions, and a myriad of other stressors that Navy couples may face. Finding the type of relationship counseling or support that suits both your needs and your partner’s needs may take some work, but can ultimately lead to a stronger connection.

Counseling Services Available to Sailors and their Spouses

  • Non-medical Counseling: Short-term and solutions-focused non-medical counseling is available through Military OneSource and the Military and Family Life Counseling (MFLC) Program. These free services offer counseling with trained and licensed mental health professionals that can help you and your partner navigate a variety of relationship stressors, from reintegration challenges post-deployment, to parenting issues and more. Military OneSource sessions can be conducted via phone, secure video, online chat, or in-person. MFLC services are provided in-person, with additional resources offered through briefings and presentations on and off military installations. For more information, visit militaryonesoure.mil.
  • Counseling, Advocacy and Prevention (CAP): CAP services offer individual, group and family counseling services, including non-medical counseling and clinical counseling for issues related to the challenges of military and family life. These services are available free of charge to active duty personnel and their families at your local Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC). A referral is not required for clinical and non-medical counseling offered through FFSCs and your command is not notified that you are seeking care. For more information and to contact your local FFSC, visit https://www.cnic.navy.mil/ffr/family_readiness/fleet_and_family_support_program/clinical_counseling.html.
  • Navy Chaplains: Navy chaplains provide a safe, non-judgmental and confidential space for individual Sailors and their family members (including spouses) to work through challenges, build connections and strengthen spiritual fitness. Chaplain care is available in-person through your local chaplain or you can reach out to Navy311 to be connected with one. The Navy Chaplain Corps also operates Chaplains Religious Enrichment Development Operation (CREDO). This program aims to strengthen spiritual well-being and individual resilience for Sailors, civilians, and families through workshops, seminars and retreats. Most CREDO sites have a Facebook page where you can find information on their program and any upcoming events and retreats that they may be hosting.
  • Medical Counseling: If there are issues with drug or alcohol abuse, physical abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury, or other psychological health issues impacting the stability of a marriage, Sailors and spouses can be seen by a Military Treatment Facility (MTF). A great start for figuring out medical counseling eligibility and services is to check with TRICARE (typically, a referral and prior authorization is needed), your health care provider or the Psychological Health Resource Center.

For couples who are not yet married, premarital counseling is a way to learn about communication styles, conflict resolution, and understanding one another’s expectations in marriage. Counseling for both married and engaged couples may be offered by the Fleet and Family Support Center at your home installation.

Connecting with Social Support

While professional help from a therapist is extremely useful, Sailors and their spouses can tap into the benefits of peer support from those who have experienced similar challenges. Fleet and Family Readiness Groups offer social support from other spouses who understand Navy life first-hand, promoting connectedness. The DoD Be There Peer Support Call and Outreach Center, provides free and confidential peer support to individual Sailors and family members for a range of relationship and family life issues, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To connect with a BeThere Peer Counselor, call 1-844-357-PEER, text 480-360-6188 or visit www.betherepeersupport.org.

Reaching Out is a Sign of Strength

Your relationship with your partner can be a protective factor against stress and adversity. Remember that counseling for marital or family concerns not related to violence by the Sailor are not required to be reported when answering question 21 on Standard Form 86 (the questionnaire for National Security Positions). For more information on psychological health treatment and security clearances, check out this Every Sailor, Every Day campaign infographic.

Finding Comfort and Joy in Family Tradition

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The pressure to do things a certain way—the same way, each and every time—can be one of the most stressful parts of the holiday season, especially since Navy life brings about constant change. Yet family traditions are cherished for the memories they create, the routines that they establish and the customs that are passed on to the next generation—and for good reason. A recent research review published in The Journal of Family Psychology finds that family rituals “are powerful organizers of family life that offer stability during times of stress and transition.”[1] Traditions give us a sense of connectedness and continuity. They’re also associated with relationship satisfaction, stronger family bonds, and better psychological and emotional health. Still, the stress and transition pieces can leave you struggling to keep traditions going while balancing others’ expectations, navigating a deployment, or adapting to new circumstances. Here are some tips to give your traditions a boost this FITmas:

  • Know the difference between ritual and routine. Routines tend to be more systematic when it comes to planning, and, by extension, can be automatic in terms of execution. There may be a lot of work involved but not as much thought, connection or processing that occurs afterward (other than a sigh of relief). Rituals, however, are where the magic happens. Researchers have found that rituals give participants a sense of identity through active participation and emotional connection. What’s the difference? Meaning. One Navy chaplain reflected on the significance behind his family’s holiday tradition in this NavyNavStress post, noting how a humorous family custom they’ve created has brought them a sense of familiarity no matter where they live and an opportunity to create new memories. Take a moment to look at your family’s routines and identify ways that you can add meaning to create sustainable (and portable) rituals. If preparing a particular dish each year has slowly lost its significance, consider letting the younger chefs take on some of the more kid-friendly roles so that they feel a sense of contribution, learn a family recipe and have some fun.
  • Don’t be afraid to switch it up. Just because a tradition has been a part of your family’s holiday season for generations doesn’t mean your family can’t add its own spin to keep it going. If you’re deployed or separated from those who you typically enjoy your traditional holiday meal with, schedule a recipe-share. Send your family your favorite barracks-friendly recipe and pick a night that you can both prepare the dish. Take photos along the way or give them a call to hear about their experience preparing the meal with only the ingredients and tools you outlined for them. The simplicity of the meal is sure to be a conversation starter and the experience of creating something “together” can help everyone feel connected—a key ingredient for traditions new, old, or refreshed.
  • Get creative to keep it going. Elves and other holiday toys that mysteriously appear in unlikely places have become a recent tradition that’s seemingly here to stay. But there’s no need to stress if the whole family isn’t together to go searching for the mischievous holiday guest each morning. If you’re deployed, you can find your own holiday helper (such as a small Navy teddy bear) to photograph in different spaces on your ship. Save each photo and write a little story to describe your helper’s journey that day, tying in fun facts that relate to what you’re doing, your recent or upcoming port of call, etc. If you have access to email or social media, send each photo and storyline to your family. If connectivity is an issue, present the compiled photo-story to your family when you return from deployment.

Deployments and changing demands around the holidays aren’t the only things that may hamper tradition. Changes to family structure like divorce or loss of a loved one may impact them as well. Doing what you can to adapt traditions in an effort to keep them going can harness the power of healing for both children and adults alike. No matter what challenges your family may face—and no matter the size, age or geographic location(s) of your family—traditions are most impactful when everyone feels committed, is able to contribute and is actively communicating. Taking the time to sit down as a family to discuss changes, emotions and expectations can build Trust, emphasize Meaning, strengthen Relationships, promote Predictability and Controllability; each helping to build resilience this season and for holidays to come.

[1]  “A Review of 50 Years of Research on Naturally Occurring Family Routines and Rituals: Cause for Celebration?,” Barbara H. Fiese, Thomas J. Tomcho, Michael Douglas, Kimberly Josephs, Scott Poltrock, and Tim Baker; Syracuse University; Journal of Family Psychology, Vol. 16, No. 4.

Staying Connected While Apart: A Spotlight

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Staying connected to your family during deployment in the Navy can be highly challenging, emotionally draining, and stressful. This is something that Chief Petty Officer Shanna Todd came to understand very quickly.

“As great as deployments can be, it is time lost from your family,” Todd said in a related Navy.mil story.” As a father or mother, it’s extremely hard especially to see the effect that it has on the children.” However, during her 11 years in the Navy and numerous deployments, Todd has created small yet meaningful ways to stay connected to her husband, daughter Marissa (age 9) and son Sylar (age 2). Todd has learned how to make deployments successful for both herself and her family. So much so that she is even the pre-deployment coordinator aboard assault ship USS Makin Island.

Chief Todd’s perseverance allowed her to not only give 100% of her focus to a job that she loves in service to a country she loves, but lets her also stay involved in her family’s day-to-day lives while overseas so that “they know she is always thinking of them.”

While it is hard to be separated from your children, Todd knows that they are proud of her. She exercises elements of the Principles of Resilience (Predictability, Controllability, Relationships, Trust and Meaning) by reminding herself of her purpose and Meaning as both a mom and a Sailor which helps her be stronger in both roles.

She fostered Relationships she has with her family while overseas by leaving her daughter “little notes that she finds in her lunch box at school. They’re just little encouraging notes that she can read throughout the day and know [her mom is] thinking about her.” And even though upon returning home to her infant son, Todd felt like stranger to him, she overcame this distressing obstacle by placing Trust in the relationship that her maternal bond would persevere, and sure enough her and her son were inseparable within just a few days.

Upon deploying this past September for the entirety of the holiday season, Todd alleviated potential future stress by applying Predictability and buying her children presents months in advance of Christmas that she could feel good about picking out and wrapping herself. She also utilized Controllability by leaving a checklist for her husband, Mark, and mother-in-law, Margie with details of “all the children’s events, important dates and times, and of course a comprehensive list of items which need to be purchased.” Todd could both help support Mark and Margie in parenting her children while deployed and also feel connected to her kid’s daily activities.

Small yet meaningful acts like these “bridge the gap between you and your family back home” Todd explained to first time deploying Sailors, “[your family’s] know that [you’re] going away to go help people who need it, and they know that [you’re] still with them in some sense” too.