US Navy designs playbook to combat mental health issues

(NewsNation) — The U.S. Navy enlisted a new tool to help sailors experiencing mental health issues.

It rolled out a new mental health playbook designed to facilitate conversations, with commanders taking the lead. The overall goal is to break the stigma of seeking help in the first place.

The Navy said its health technicians and psychologists are overwhelmed, and there is a backlog of appointments on deck.

The playbook encourages leaders to set conditions to create a climate of trust and open two-way communication. Also, it’s designed to recognize mental health issues by encouraging leaders to use empathy and get people the care they need to keep them on the team.

According to the Navy, 70 sailors died by suicide in 2022, an increase from 59 suicides in 2021 and 65 in 2020.

The hope is that resources in the playbook will help leaders flag suicide-related behaviors before it’s too late.

Retired Lt. Cmdr. Steven Rogers, who worked with the Office of Naval Intelligence, said any effort to address mental health issues in the military is commendable. However, Rogers said he can see some issues with that.

“You’re asking a lower-ranking individual to go to his or her commanding officer and to share perhaps some intimate, personal issues that that sailor’s dealing with,” he said. “Here’s the problem: You’re asking commanding officers to diagnose whether an individual has a mental health problem or not. It’s just another layer that the sailor has to go through in order to find the person who can really help them.”

He explained that this could be an unnecessary burden on the sailor — to begin with — who is seeking help and the commanding officer, whose job isn’t to diagnose whether an individual has a mental health issue.

But the standard to maintaining a healthy fighting force for the Navy includes mental health. If a commander isn’t taking care of their subordinate’s mental health, then the health of the unit isn’t going to be what it needs to be.

Rogers said poor mental health should be detected, especially if there’s an individual dealing with a mental health issue, but there are non-commissioned officers and immediate supervisors who can help address these issues.

“I was in the military for 25 years. I was a commanding officer. If I thought someone who I was supervising did have an issue that they would have to deal with regarding their mental health, certainly, I would contact someone to reach out to them. But to ask individuals to speak to me about their problems, I’m not qualified,” Rogers said.

He explained because he isn’t a mental health therapist, he couldn’t begin to understand if someone was going down a road that would hurt their capability to work.

Rogers said there are resources in the military strictly for this role, including chaplains who act as their therapists.

“The issue is the fact that the military needs to invest more manpower in the mental health field,” Rogers said. “Get the doctors there. Get the therapists there. By all means, we have the funding in the military to do that. In other words, let the professionals handle mental health issues, but at an early stage.”

He said by the time it gets to the commanding officer, the sailor’s mental health issue could be a full-blown problem.

If you or someone you know needs help, resources or someone to talk to, you can find it at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website or by calling 1-800-273-8255. People are available to talk to 24×7.


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