Tag Archives: Behavioral Fitness

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.

Alcohol and the Mind – Mental Health Month 2019

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.

Self-Referral: Seeking Help Early is a Sign of Strength

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The Navy’s non-disciplinary self-referral process allows you to seek help and remain an active duty Sailor. The intent of a self-referral is to provide you with a means of intervening in the progression of alcohol abuse early enough to get help before a problem becomes more advanced and difficult to resolve without risk of disciplinary action. More information, including contact info for the Navy Alcohol Abuse Prevention, (NAAP) office, is available on the NAAP website at https://go.usa.gov/xEejq. Refer to OPNAVINST 5350.4D for details and official policies.

The following list answers some frequently asked questions about self-referral.

What exactly constitutes a self-referral? A self-referral is an event personally initiated by the member. A member may initiate the process by disclosing the nature and extent of their problem to one of the following personnel who is actively employed in their capacity as a qualified self-referral agent: Drug and Alcohol Programs Advisor (DAPA); Commanding Officer, Executive Officer, Officer- in-Charge, or Command Master Chief (CMDCM)/ Chief of the Boat (COB); Navy Drug and Alcohol Counselor (or intern); Department of Defense medical personnel, including Licensed Independent Practitioner (LIP); Chaplain; or Fleet and Family Support Center Counselor.

When should someone consider self-referring? A member should consider self-referring if they desire counseling and treatment to address potential, suspected, or actual alcohol abuse or misuse.

What could make a self-referral invalid, in which case the member would not be shielded from disciplinary action? To be valid, the self-referral must be made only to one of the qualified self-referral agents listed above; it must be made with the intent of acquiring treatment, should treatment be recommended as a result of the screening process; and there can be no credible evidence of the member’s involvement in an alcohol-related incident (ARI).

What do we mean by “non-disciplinary?” This means that a member may not be disciplined merely for self-referring and participating in the resulting process of screening and treatment, if recommended. It doesn’t mean that a member is necessarily shielded from the possible administrative consequences of treatment failure or the administrative or disciplinary consequences of refusing to participate in treatment recommended by the post-referral screening process.

Does making a self-referral count as an ARI? No.

Will other people know if I self-refer? Yes. The member’s chain of command, and others on a need-to-know basis, will be informed.

Will a self-referral mean that the Navy looks at other parts of my life/job performance? Alcohol use issues are complex, and evaluation and treatment require a holistic view. Relevant information on the member’s work and personal life may be required as part of the screening and treatment processes.

Can I re-enlist if I’ve self-referred? Yes.

What are the levels of alcohol treatment? If treatment is recommended, the command will coordinate with the appropriate SARP facility based on availability, locality, and type of treatment needed. Levels of treatment are: Level 0.5 Early Intervention/ Education Program; Level I Outpatient Treatment; Level II Intensive Outpatient/Partial Hospitalization (lOP) and Level III Inpatient Treatment.

Will I lose my security clearance for self-referring? No. Your security clearance may be jeopardized if your screening recommends treatment and you subsequently refuse that treatment.

Responsible Alcohol Use for the Non-Drinker: Pledge to Give the Gift of a DD

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December is Impaired Driving Prevention Month. So, what does that mean for non-drinkers?

A number of Sailors choose not to drink alcohol. Their reasons are as diverse as our Navy family. If you’re among the “zero-proof” cocktail crowd this holiday season, you can still play a big part in promoting responsible choices for those who do choose to drink. Pledge to “Give the Gift of a Designated Driver” (DD) and to help others make it home (and back) safely this year.

The Navy Alcohol Abuse Prevention (NAAP) office’s Keep What You’ve Earned (KWYE) Campaign recently launched this quick and anonymous online pledge encouraging Sailors, their friends and family to serve as designated drivers this holiday season. To take the pledge, visit https://go.usa.gov/xnj86 and then head to the KWYE webpage to print a gift card that can be given to a friend or loved one to be used in exchange for a safe ride home. The pledge runs through Dec. 31.

These cards are the perfect one-size-fits-all gift for those who choose to drink. Show them how much you care by committing your time – No long lines or gift wrap needed!

Follow these tips to make the experience a win for you and your friends.

  1. Get the keys before heading out.
  2. Make a plan (where you’ll meet, where you’re going and when you’ll call it a night).
  3. Make sure your phone is on, charged and set to vibrate and ring.
  4. Turn up, but turn down the alcohol – no exceptions!

To help illustrate what’s on the line should Sailors choose to drink and drive, KWYE has developed three short videos exploring the financial impacts of a Driving Under the Influence conviction, ranging from impacts to military retirement benefits, to loss of rank and subsequent loss of pay, and other short term impacts. You can encourage Sailors to find a safe ride home this month and all year long by sharing these videos on your social media channels, which can be found on https://www.youtube.com/user/NavyNADAP.

If your friends need additional support setting healthy limits around their alcohol intake, this Health.mil article offers signs of problematic drinking, practical tips and helpful resources, including KWYE campaign’s Pier Pressure mobile application. View the article at https://health.mil/News/Articles/2018/11/09/To-drink-or-not-to-drink.

For more information and materials to help Sailors keep what they’ve earned, check out the campaign’s website.

Boosting Your Energy without Misusing Prescription Stimulants

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There never seems to be enough hours in the day to get everything done and get enough sleep. We strive for alertness and productivity, but they often seem easier to dream of than to truly achieve. While strong coffee or energy drinks (which carry their own risks) are popular quick-fixes among Sailors to boost energy and alertness, there may be temptation to use prescription stimulants to strengthen performance on the job. Using prescription stimulants in this way can put Sailors’ health and careers at risk, especially if taking someone else’s medication.  There are safe and natural alternatives to prescription stimulants that you can incorporate into your day-to-day routine to boost your energy when you may not always be able to get the sleep you need.

Understanding Prescription Stimulants and their Effects

Prescription medications such as Adderall (Dextroamphetamine-Amphetamine) and Ritalin (Methylphenidate) are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a condition causing chronic inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviors. In some cases, they are also used to treat narcolepsy, a condition marked by intense daytime drowsiness. These medications are central nervous system stimulants that affect certain chemicals in the brain. For people who have ADHD or narcolepsy, these medications are very effective in the treatment of their symptoms and can help them gain the attentiveness and alertness that they need to function in their daily lives.

Because of stimulants’ ability to alleviate inattentiveness and sleepiness in people with ADHD or narcolepsy, some people who do not have diagnosed conditions feel that these medications may create positive results for them. However, a small study of college students co-conducted by the University of Rhode Island and Brown University found that these medications are not helpful to people who do not have ADHD. While they may provide temporary improvement of mood and focus, they do not appear to improve performance or reading comprehension, and they can impair short-term memory. Additionally, if not under the supervision of a doctor, an individual taking prescription stimulants that they have not been prescribed could be at risk of potentially harmful side effects such as heart problems, increased blood pressure or stroke.

Increasing Alertness and Attention Safely

When your watchstanding duty makes you feel like taping your eyelids open, getting these sorts of medications from a friend, family member or shipmate may seem like a good option. But sharing prescription medications can potentially threaten your Navy career. Try these tips to safely work towards becoming more attentive, alert and productive.

  • Optimize your sleep. Being tired and fatigued is a huge factor in preventing alertness. Seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night is ideal for Sailors, but it isn’t always possible. Sufficient sleep contributes to better memory, mood and performance. If that sort of sleep schedule is out of reach for you, squeezing in 30-minute or two-hour naps can alleviate fatigue and get you on track. Caffeine may be a helpful energy booster for you but remember to avoid it during the latter half of your day, as it can prevent restful sleep. Large meals, tobacco products, alcohol and exercise before bed can also be disruptive to your sleep, so avoid those in the few hours before you plan to lie down. A helpful tip for watch standing is following a 3/9 watchbill. This includes three-hour watches with nine hours off between watches. Ask your supervisor about following this schedule that maximizes performance and allows for adequate rest.
  • Establish a mindful morning routine. Waking up and putting yourself into the right mindset for productivity is essential. Try to find time for activities that promote balanced energy and focus, like meditation, working out and eating a balanced breakfast. Avoid checking your email as that can overload your brain with all the tasks you have to do. The same goes for checking social media and feeling bombarded with all the things that your connections have going on in their lives.
  • Focus on the tasks that matter and give yourself breaks. Instead of creating your to-do list with every single one of your tasks in mind, identify what is especially pressing for the day and focus on completing those. Remember that getting things done doesn’t have to be a marathon, so take breaks. Overworking the brain can make productivity even more challenging, frustrating and tiring.
  • Complete your most challenging work before lunch. Find yourself feeling sluggish after eating lunch? Try working on your more difficult tasks before your break when the mind is still fresh and you’re able to put forth your best energy. Save the “busy work” that doesn’t require as much creativity or brain power for later.
  • Eat for energy and resilience. A balanced diet not only promotes physical health, it also affects emotional and psychological health. Eating can be an emotional response, causing us to snack when bored or tired. Those feelings may cause us to crave processed foods like chips or high-sugar snacks such as cookies. Choosing whole foods over processed foods can positively impact mood and give you the energy you need to get through the day. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains or fruit can provide an energy boost, and lean proteins and vegetables can give your mood a needed boost as well. Caffeine can give you a jolt of energy but in excess can increase anxiety and cause apprehension, agitation and uneasiness as well as dehydration. Most caffeinated energy drinks also contain high amounts of sugar, which can create the unwanted effect of fatigue if blood sugar levels significantly increase too rapidly.

Prescription stimulants are safe and helpful for individuals with diagnosed conditions that require their use but are harmful when used as a quick fix for your energy or productivity deficit. Implementing these tips into your daily routine can help you boost your energy naturally, strengthening your performance without threatening your health or Navy career.

Knowing the Signs and Reaching Out for Help

Seeking help promptly is the best thing you can do for health and safety if you think you or someone you know may have a problem with prescription drug misuse. Signs of prescription drug misuse include:

  • Mood swings or hostility
  • Abnormal energy
  • Significant increase or decrease in fatigue or sleep
  • Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor
  • Asking friends and family members for their medication
  • Claiming that their prescription was lost or stolen

If you recognize these signs within yourself or others, speak with your command Drug and Alcohol Program Advisor (DAPA) or doctor, or call 1-866-U-ASK-NPC.

For more information and tips to use prescription drugs safely, visit the Prescription for Discharge campaign online at http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/support/21st_Century_Sailor/DDD/campaigns/prescription/Pages/default.aspx.