My Coast Guard
Commentary | May 13, 2022

Early intervention is the best prevention of suicide—the main message for Mental Health Awareness Month

By Keisha Reynolds, MyCG Writer

The Coast Guard is stepping-up its efforts to support the workforce using early intervention tools and resources with the goal of discouraging people from thinking self-harm is an option. Already underway for May as Mental Health Awareness Month, the Suicide Prevention and Behavioral Health Program has provided the workforce a number of resources, which include a suicide prevention toolkit, an app resource, a video message from Rear Adm. Dana Thomas, and the program is scheduled to host a Wellness Wednesday discussion on the topic May 18, and many other efforts. 

“The bigger push of the enterprise is to move toward a more preventative approach versus a more reactive stance to suicide prevention,” said Cmdr. LaMar Henderson, the Coast Guard’s Suicide Prevention and Behavioral Health Program manager. “It’s not really about catching a member before they do self-harm but it’s really about providing intervention services before challenges become overwhelming or feel insurmountable.” 

The Suicide Prevention Stand-Down Toolkit, which you can find on the Suicide Prevention Program webpage, is designed to assist commands to engage in conversations with their units about stress management and the importance of mental health to maintain optimal readiness. Part of the toolkit includes a guide that details ways to recognize unhealthy behaviors and how to support someone with stress management, as well as, talking points on stress, self-care, and avoiding self-harm.

Those of you who have been provided government-furnished mobile phones now have access to some of these intervention tools and resources at your fingertips. This month, the Department of Homeland Security’s Columbia Protocol App was pushed to your device. It is an adaptation of the Columbia Protocol App but for the uniform environment allowing you to search for local crisis resources, suicide facts, risk factors and warning signs, as well as, recommendations on how to discuss suicide.

Perhaps most importantly, there is a button within the app to access emergency resources (e.g., hyperlinks to Suicide Prevention Lifeline, phone, chat, text, veteran options, 911). This makes these emergency contacts immediately available rather than having to respond to questions to access them at the end. Those without government furnished phones can now download the DHS Columbia Protocol App directly to your personal device through your related app store. 

Henderson emphasizes the importance of prevention tools and resources, like the DHS app, and says it is necessary to normalize suicide prevention conversations within the Coast Guard. He explains that according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “We have more people [who] die from completed suicides than by homicides annually across the nation, between the ages of 13-34. Yet we frequently talk about violence prevention in our society, while the topic of suicide and how to prevent it, gets muffled,” said Henderson.

Because the life of military members’ encompass an added level of stress, Rear Adm. Thomas issued a video to increase awareness and discuss ways to intervene when you notice a fellow shipmate in need. Additionally, the Suicide Prevention and Behavioral Health Program will host a Wellness Wednesday conversation on May 18 at 3 pm to initiate an enterprise-wide conversation for the Coast Guard community. Specifically, the session will feature two members who will share their mental health journeys with those present. Also, a security clearance officer will discuss and dispel myths about your clearance related to addressing your mental health needs. Join via Coast Guard Teams or by calling in to the phone bridge at 410-872-6742, Conference ID: 646-365-62#.

“We have to approach it from a preventative stance and not a reactionary one when people are in crisis,” added Henderson. To move the needle a little further, the Suicide Prevention Program will be hosting a train-the-trainer in Livingworks safeTalk and ASIST in the Pacific and Atlantic areas this fall. 

Here are some immediate preventative resources that are available, however, for the actual documents please visit the Suicide Prevention Program webpage

Related Resources:

  • Call 911: If you feel someone is in immediate danger of hurting themselves or others, call 911 without hesitation.
  • CG SUPRT: Call 1-855-CG-SUPRT (247-8778) at any time. This is the Coast Guard Employee Assistance Program (EAP), available to assist active duty members, reservists, civilian employees, and family members with stressors that could lead to more serious consequences, such as depression and suicidal thoughts. You can also visit CG SUPRT online at www.cgsuprt.com.
  • The Coast Guard recently welcomed a team of Regional Behavioral Health Providers (RBHPs). You, your units, as well as, Coast Guard leadership, have access to enhanced prevention, intervention, and postvention behavioral health support. To make an appointment with your RBHP, please contact your unit medical officer for a referral or email .
  • Work-Life Employee Assistance Program Coordinators (EAPCs) are also available to assist with connecting you to various supportive resources. 
  • Find your local chaplains or call 1-855-USCG-CHC (872-4242).