Overview | Definitions | Risk Factors | Why Marines May Not Seek Help
Prevention | Suggested Resources | Guidance | Key Terms
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the Marine Corps. Even one death by suicide is too many. It is a tragic and preventable loss, causing untold grief to loved ones and units, and is of highest concern to the public, legislators, the Commandant, and all Marines. In addition, suicide and suicidal behavior at all levels can take a tremendous toll on the readiness and resources of the unit involved. For all these reasons, suicide awareness, prevention, and intervention must be of highest priority to all Marines, and especially Marine leaders.
The Marine Corps sees suicide prevention as the responsibility of the entire Marine Corps community. Each of us, as fellow Marines, family members, and friends, is responsible for encouraging those who are troubled to seek help while their problems are still small, before they affect their relationships, work performance, career, mental health, or desire to live. Thus, suicide is prevented in your unit by addressing quality of life concerns and watching for “red flags” on a daily basis. Watching out for each other helps keep us ready to serve. The following information is designed to inform you of specific issues regarding suicidal behavior, what to do about it, and available resources to help your Marines be as mentally healthy and resilient as possible, decreasing the likelihood of suicidal behavior within your unit.
- Suicide :
- Intentionally killing oneself.
- Suicide Attempt :
- A potentially self-injurious act with a non-fatal outcome, for which there is at least some intent to die. A suicide attempt may or may not result in injuries.
- Suicide Gesture :
- A potentially self-injurious act with a non-fatal outcome for which there is no evidence of intent to die. A suicide gesture may or may not result in injuries.
- Suicide Threat :
- Declaration of intent or determination to kill oneself.
- Suicidal Ideation :
- Expressions or thoughts about killing oneself.
- Medical :
- The local Military Medical Treatment Facility, Company, Battalion, BAS, Mental Health Department, OSCAR Team, or whatever unit you may have, which takes care of your local Mental Health needs, specifically suicide risk evaluations and treatment.
Risk factors are those things that increase the probability that difficulties will turn into serious behavioral or physical health problems. The presence of risk factors does not automatically mean someone will become suicidal, but it raises that risk. Many of these risk factors can be modified, reduced, or eliminated. The following risk factors have been associated with suicidal behavior:
- History of previous suicide attempts.
- Immediate access to a weapon.
- Relationship problems.
- Financial problems.
- Current or pending disciplinary or legal action.
- Substance abuse.
- Work related problems.
- Transitions (retirement, PCS, discharge, etc.).
- Serious medical problem.
- Significant loss.
- Setbacks (academic, career, or personal).
- Severe, prolonged, or perceived unmanageable stress.
- A sense of powerlessness, helplessness, or hopelessness.
Marines who attempt or commit suicide may face problems they feel cannot be resolved. Normally, there are alternatives to these problems. However, someone who is suicidal may not be thinking clearly and cannot see the other possible positive solutions.
Unit members who are at an increased risk for suicide present a significant challenge for leaders. Because those who are truly suicidal often keep their suicidal thoughts to themselves, effective suicide prevention requires everyone in the unit to be aware of the risk factors for suicide and know how to respond. Commanders, SNCOs, and supervisors must lead the way. Any individual who reports suicidal thoughts or behaviors must always be taken seriously.
It is also important to proactively ask about possible thoughts of suicide when unit members are dealing with significant life difficulties. Don't assume that merely because someone has not told you they are feeling suicidal, that they are safe. Be especially vigilant with individuals facing multiple stressors. Such individuals are typically at higher risk for suicide.
- Fear that seeking help will negatively impact their careers.
- Fear of commander having complete access to mental health records.
- Belief that mental health information is entered into their military record.
- A command climate that discourages getting help.
Marines may be reluctant to seek help because of fears that such help will negatively impact their careers. Unfortunately, this often means a Marine in distress delays seeking help until the problem becomes so big that it affects their behavior both on and off work until, ultimately, they begin to collect Page 11 counseling entries, Letters of Reprimand, and NJPs. The consequence of waiting too long to seek help is what damages their career. Getting help early does not. As leaders, you must combat the myth that seeking help early damages careers.
Another fear Marines have is that their Commander will have complete access to their mental health records. In fact, however, for most of those who self-refer to Mental Health, confidentiality is maintained. In cases where information is released, the cases either involve mandatory reporting or the unit leadership was solicited to be a resource for the member (with the Marine's consent).
Some Marines incorrectly believe mental health information is entered into their Military Record. Mental health clinical information is recorded in the outpatient medical record and the appropriate mental health file but not the Military Record unless they are found unfit or unsuitable for duty.
The main approach to suicide prevention in the Marine Corps is via each command through annual Suicide Awareness Training for all Marines (MCO P1700.29 paragraph 1005.1.a.). Commands have a variety of resources available to them, including the training kit, “Suicide Prevention: Taking Action, Saving Lives,” which is designed so that any leader can give the presentation. The kit includes an 18-minute video with real life scenarios on a wide variety of issues including a Marine Officer in distress after being passed over for promotion and another Marine whose relationship has recently ended. It also includes a suggested lecture, transparencies, and answers to frequently asked questions about suicide. The kits were originally distributed in October 2000, but can still be ordered free of charge through the Defense Visual Information Website at http://trol.redstone.army.mil/cgi-bin/davis_ditis/davis_descr.pl?recnum='999114907'&lognumber=1056325.
A second Navy video is now available, and may be helpful for Marines as well. The video, “Suicide Awareness: Making the Critical Decision” can be ordered free of charge through the same site as above at http://trol.redstone.army.mil/cgi-bin/davis_ditis/davis_descr.pl?recnum='999126236'&lognumber=1056326
Suicide prevention must go beyond just training by recognizing, and responding appropriately when suicidal signs and symptoms are evident. Suicide prevention must also occur by establishing a culture in which seeking help for problems is not only acceptable but also expected to protect the readiness and effectiveness of the unit. This is done by establishment of a variety of protective factors within the individual and command, which reduce the probability that difficulties will turn into serious behavioral or physical health problems.
- Belief that it is okay to ask for help.
- Optimistic outlook.
- Effective coping and problem-solving skills.
- Social and family support.
- Sense of belonging to a group or organization.
- Supportive Marriage.
- Physical activity.
- Participation and membership in a community.
- A measure of personal control in life and its circumstances.
- Religious or spiritual connectedness.
- Unit cohesion and camaraderie.
- Peer support.
Every person is at a different level of risk for experiencing difficulties, based on their balance of protective and risk factors. The key to suicide prevention is to increase the protective factors and to decrease the risk factors. We are not just focusing on eliminating negative factors, but also on increasing positive factors that will improve the quality of life for Marine Corps members. As a Marine Corps leader, whether enlisted or officer, you contribute to the presence of these factors.
It is also essential that you know the agencies and resources available to help when someone comes to you with a problem. All of us, especially leaders, have a responsibility to match the needs of our members with available resources. Each installation has a branch of Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS) called the Marine and Family Services (MFS) Center, which knows and coordinates with representatives from each of the helping agencies on base. They routinely work collaboratively with other agencies to identify base-wide needs and to coordinate the delivery and referral of services to meet these needs. Services at each base vary, but typical offerings by individual agencies include:
- Marital Counseling.
- Family Counseling.
- Financial counseling.
- Employment assistance.
- Life skills groups (stress management, anger management, depression, anxiety, etc.)
- Workshops (conflict resolution, dealing with difficult people, supervising, etc)
- Parenting groups.
- Respite Care (help for parents of special needs family members).
- Infant and toddler play groups.
MCCS One Source is another important resource for Marines in distress. The services of MCCS One Source supplement the existing support system for Marines and their families by providing assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via toll free telephone and Internet access. In addition, MCCS One Source supports geographically dispersed Marines and their families (recruiters, Inspector and Instructor staffs, and mobilized reservists) who do not have traditional services available. Resources are available on topics to include parenting and childcare issues, education services, financial information and counseling, legal, elder care, health and wellness, crisis support and relocation.
Marine Corps Suicide Prevention Program (MCSPP)
The MCSPP seeks to:
- Reduce the number and rate of Marine Corps suicides.
- Advocate a community approach to suicide prevention.
- Provide guidance to organizations using various components of the MCSPP.
- Identify factors contributing to the incidence of suicide and develop a response to reduce the impact of such factors.
- Collaborate joint Armed Services prevention efforts.
Information, resources and contact information for the MCSPP manager can be found at the Marine Corps Suicide Prevention website:
This website has information and resources about Marine Corps wide suicide prevention efforts into one central location.
Video: Suicide Prevention - Taking Action, Saving Lives
The training kit, “Suicide Prevention: Taking Action, Saving Lives,” is designed so that any leader can give the presentation. The kit includes an 18-minute video with real life scenarios on a wide variety of issues including a Marine in distress after being passed over for promotion and another whose relationship has recently ended. It also includes a suggested lecture, transparencies, and answers to frequently asked questions about suicide. The kits were originally distributed in October 2000, but additional kits can be ordered at the Defense Visual Information Website at http://dodimagery.afis.osd.mil/ through the DAVIS/DITIS search option, using PIN #806377.
Video: Suicide Awareness - Making the Critical Decision
This second Navy video is now available. It can be ordered free of charge through the Defense Visual Information Website at http://dodimagery.afis.osd.mil/, through the DAVIS/DITIS search option, using PIN #806677. This video has no Marine scenarios, but is still useful.
MCCS One Source
The services of MCCS One Source supplement the existing support system for Marines and their families by providing assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via toll free telephone and Internet access. In addition, MCCS One Source supports geographically dispersed Marines and their families (recruiters, Inspector and Instructor staffs, and mobilized reservists) who do not have traditional services available. Resources are available on topics to include parenting and childcare issues, education services, financial information and counseling, legal, elder care, health and wellness, crisis support and relocation.
Marines or family members seeking assistance can call 800-869-0278 in CONUS, or 800-8690-2788 OCONUS. MCCS One Source Online can be visited at www.mccsonesource.com, userid: marines, password: semperfi.
Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST)
ASIST is an intensive two-day commercial workshop designed to help people feel comfortable recognizing, assisting, and referring those at high risk for immediate suicide. See your base chaplain for additional details.
National Institute of Health (NIH) Suicide website
Crisis hotlines provide telephone counseling for people with suicidal thoughts or feelings. Due to the anonymity involved in these services, many people are willing to contact a crisis hotline before they are willing to seek care in person. It is therefore helpful to provide hotline numbers to individuals at increased risk for suicide. Contact your local Marine and Family Services for crisis hotline numbers in your local area.
MCCS One Source: IN CONUS 1-800-869-0278
The National Suicide Hotline number: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
SECNAVINST 6320.24a Mental Health Evaluations for Members of the Armed Forces
MCO P1700.24B Marine Corps Personal Services Manual
MCO P1700.29 Marine Corps Semper Fit Manual
MCO P3040.4E Marine Corps Casualty Procedures Manual
MCO 1510.89B Individual Training Standards (ITS) System for Marine Corps Common Skills (Vol 1)
MCRP 6-11 C Marine Corps Combat Stress Manual
ALMAR 067/02 Suicide Awareness
ALMAR 030/99 Suicides in the Marine Corps
ALMAR 367/98 Suicide Awareness