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New programs aiming to curb rising Navy suicides

With U.S. Navy suicides on the rise, nationwide and local efforts are being made to increase soldier resiliency.

While Navy suicide rates are historically lower than national and Department of Defense rates, they have trended upward over the past three years “indicating a problem,” according to a report released by the Navy in April.

With the death of 59 active duty and six reservists, 2012 marked the highest number of Navy suicides in 17 years. The suicide rate reached its peak in 1995, with 69 active-duty suicides.

According to the Navy report, leadership’s approach to preventing suicide is to increase sailor resiliency, defined by the Navy as “the process of preparing for, recovering from, and adjusting to life in the face of stress, adversity, trauma, or tragedy.”

Locally, the Fleet Readiness Center Northwest at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station conducted a “Life is Worth Living” photograph contest, with four images selected as winners out of more than 30 entries.

Created this year by NAS Whidbey’s own Suicide Prevention Team, the contest aims to boost morale and remind sailors what is important in their lives.

At a national level, the Navy established the 21st Century Sailor office in June, with a mission to prevent suicide as well as provide resources for sailors and their families to help with other Navy concerns such as hazing, substance abuse, sexual assault, physical readiness and transition assistance.

“The goal of 21st Century Sailor office is to provide our sailors with the support network, programs, resources, training, and skills needed to overcome adversity and thrive,” Rear Adm. Walter Carter, director of the 21st Century Sailor office, said in a July news release.

“Resilience is not one program or initiative, but a comprehensive effort to build life skills that not only ensure Navy readiness, but also fully develop the personal and professional talent of our force.”

The 21st Century Sailor office was created as part of Task Force Resilient, which was chartered in January to review Navy resiliency efforts and suicides, and make recommendations for suicide prevention.

“There is much work to be done, but the 21st Century Sailor office establishment is an important step toward supporting life skills programs that our sailors will want to better themselves and improve our readiness,” Carter said.

The 21st Century Sailor office will comprise six individual policy branches: Total Sailor Fitness, Suicide Prevention, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, Sexual Harassment Prevention and Equal Opportunity and the Office of Hazing Prevention.

The creation of the Navy 21st Century Sailor Office began June 1 and will be completed prior to January 2014.

See the August Whidbey Crosswind for publication of all the winning photographs in the “Life is Worth Living” contest.

For more information about Navy resiliency efforts and suicide prevention, visit www.navy.mil

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