Suicide prevention in the Marine Corps

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MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (WNCT) – Specialists at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune are sharing their tactics to combat a problem in the Marine Corps, suicide.

The Department of Defense says more than 500 active duty and reserve members took their own life in 2018. 325 were active service members and 58 of those were marines.

The latest numbers show 14 marines completed suicide in the first three months of 2019.

The report addresses the common misconceptions about military suicides, stating:

  • Being deployed is not associated with suicide risks
  • 50.8 percent of military suicides did not have a mental health diagnosis
  • Talking about suicide will not lead to someone from taking their own life

Corinne Smith is a specialist at the Community Counseling Center on base, teaching marines to spot risk factors in others and in themselves.

Services like group counseling and resiliency workshops help marines focus on how to deal with life stressors, including events like Build a Warrior Within. It’s a day each year mental health professionals work with marines.

“So by the time they leave the event, they have a lot of coping skills and strategies at their hands
they can use when experiencing stress,” said Smith.

Commanders play a role in suicide prevention. Unit leaders can request specialists to address suicide risk factors to their marines.

“Command has done a really good job, at really encouraging their leadership to have an open dialogue, frank conversations, about their normal everyday things that happen to us,” said Mary Mack, the Branch Manager at the Community Counseling Center on base.

Clinical experts like Mack and Smith work to remove the stigma that seeking help is weak. Counselors want to teach everyone, even marines, it’s okay to ask for help.

“By creating this open dialogue and through that we normalize we seek assistance,” said Smith.

Someone distancing themselves from social relationships can sound the alarm to someone’s mental wellness, but red flags aren’t always apparent.

“It’s not so much looking for red flags, as much as it is willing to ask someone if they’re okay,”
said Smith.

Marine Corps veteran Christal Dunaway is familiar with not seeking help when most needed.

“It can be hard. You don’t know if you’re going to be judged, talked about, or helped,” said Dunaway.

The Louisiana native attempted and contemplated suicide as early as 16. She survived after a friend called her after swallowing two bottles of pills.

She joined the Marine Corps and left after five years of service. Even with a second chance,
suicide still clouded her mind.

“I’ve had my ugly moments in regards to some experiences in my past and my Marine Corps career that really pushed me to a point I would never even think about I’d experience,” said Dunaway.

She lives to tell her story for her daughter and family. Dunaway leads an annual Silkies Hike in
Jacksonville to improve mental health among veterans and active-duty members.

“Oh lord, it’s a blessing when you see that you aren’t alone and that somebody was in your exact shoes. When you have someone who can tell you your story and it sounds verbatim, it compels you not to give up,” said Dunaway.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7 at 1800-273-8255.

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