Be involved, know your Marines

20 May 2014 | Cpl. Brendan Roethel

Suicide accounts for more deaths than combat in the military and occurs more often during the summer months. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 349 United States service members were lost due to suicides in 2012.

A ten year seasonal analysis of Marine Corps suicide data revealed a higher rate of suicide in the summer compared to other seasons. 

According to the Department of Defense, the increase is usually associated with increased transition and reduced unit cohesion. Periods of transition and relocation may also cause or worsen stressors for Marines and family members. Those stressors include travel, financial strain, relationship problems, and separation from support systems and resources. 

“The leadership trait of ‘knowing your Marines’ is challenged during the summer months as Marines transition between units,” said Jeanette Smith, the suicide prevention specialist for Marine Corps Community Services. “For the individual Marine, changing units may temporarily erode a sense of belonging, a known protective factor against suicide.”

To mitigate the impact of these stressors, leaders can follow up consistently with transitioning Marines and offer support as Marines move from one unit to another, or prepare to leave active duty. Even brief, periodic contact can reduce suicide risk. This is especially important when a transition is unwanted or disciplinary in nature, because the Marine’s sense of belonging is already threatened. 

“By maintaining strong sponsor or mentorship programs, especially for Marines who are new to a unit, and by encouraging team-building activities, we can get Marines acclimated and comfortable with their commands,” Smith said. “When Marines feel connected to the mission and to each other they will be more willing to let others know if they need help, and more willing to step away from considering committing suicide.”

Leaders can also connect transitioning Marines with resources that offer assistance such as Marine for Life, inTransition Mental Health Coaching and Support Program, Military Family Life Consultants, and the DSTRESS Line. They can also provide information on counseling resources for family, financial, behavioral or other concerns, particularly in cases where it is known the Marine is dealing with these stressors.

“As the summer months approach, it is a good time for units to complete their required Never Leave a Marine Behind suicide prevention training,” Smith said. “It’s also the perfect time for units to get together and discuss suicide and suicide prevention.

For more information on suicide prevention call 228-1569.