Just as Marine Corps leaders talk about physical fitness, they must also be comfortable discussing mental, spiritual, and social fitness and how wellness impacts overall readiness. When leaders demonstrate that they are comfortable discussing all aspects of fitness, it decreases mental health stigma within their unit and reduces barriers for those seeking help.

Nine ways leaders can decrease the stigma of talking about mental health and reduce barriers for those seeking help

  1. Know your leadership style and how it allows you to increase help-seeking behaviors within your command/unit. 
  2. Use your personal experience. Share how you felt about stress. Remember what you needed in some of your more stressful times, and how you managed. Apply this wisdom to your leadership.
  3. Normalize the mental health conversation. It is important to highlight that everyone experiences difficulties in their lives.  
  4. Listen, provide support, and empathize. Sometimes, you just need to listen with no judgment. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
  5. Raise awareness of resources. Marine Corps Community Services has multiple programs to assist Marines in need of help.
  6. Model a healthy work-life balance. Think of “sick days” not only for physical health, but also for mental health. 
  7. Encourage Marines to speak up for their needs. At times, subordinate Marines can feel intimidated when addressing senior Marines. Provide a positive command climate for Marines to be able to communicate their needs and make a plan with them on how to meet these needs together.
  8. Become trained in Mental Health First Aid – The Combat and Operational Stress Control (COSC) Program provides Operational Stress Control and Readiness (OSCAR) training, which incorporates a component called Combat Operational Stress First Aid (COFSA). 
  9. Promote unit cohesion. The COSC Program states the importance of unit cohesion (refer to Marine Corps Order 5351.1). As leaders, promoting unit cohesion is crucial in suicide prevention efforts. Unit cohesion is the mutual trust and support of a social group seen in the esprit de corps of a well-functioning unit. 

·       Sharing hardships and accomplishments promotes communication and trust in peer-to-peer and leader-to-subordinate relationships.

  • Support personal and family readiness. Families are an important part of the unit and contribute to its cohesiveness.
  • Communicate the mission’s value, rewarding accomplishments, keep Marines active, and exhibit courageous, ethical behavior.


To learn more about how to promote a healthy unit environment when discussing mental

health or seeking help, contact your COSC representative, an OSCAR Team member, the Community Counseling Center, or a Military and Family Life Counselor.