What follows is the second guest blog post in a series planned for the month of September — both National Recovery Month and National Suicide Prevention Month.
National Recovery Month, formerly known as National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month, is a national observance aimed at informing people that addiction treatment and mental health services can enable those with a substance use or mental disorder to live a healthy and rewarding life.
According to the World Health Organization, nearly 3,000 people commit suicide every day, about one million per year. National Suicide Prevention Month is designed to raise awareness that suicide is preventable, improve education and spread information about suicide, and decrease the stigma of suicide.
In light of these co-occurring observances, the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steve Cantrell is trying to break the stigma of asking for help. No matter what issue you may be facing — substance use/abuse, finances, depression, anxiety, fear, guilt — there are so many programs available for help, both in and out of the Coast Guard. Don’t suffer in silence. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As the Commandant already put it: “Don’t go it alone.”
Written by Janet Cantrell, wife of Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell and one of the Coast Guard’s ombudsmen-at-large
September is National Suicide Prevention and National Recovery Month, when we raise awareness about prevention, intervention and knowing what resources are available, and when we endeavor to show that there is nothing, at all, wrong with asking for help. I would like to make sure we are also focusing on our families and their well-being as well as our Coast Guard men and women.
I have been a Coast Guard spouse for nearly 30 years, and many things have changed over those three decades. There are so many wonderful services available to spouses and children that we did not always have. But as we look at this month, I think it is important that not only is it important for family members to know the signs and symptoms of alcohol and substance use/abuse and suicide and be able to recognize them in our spouses, we need to also be very aware that family members can suffer from the very same conditions, for different reasons.
If you think about it, we are often uprooted from our jobs, our friends, our homes, and schools. We do this proudly as we support our devoted Coast Guard spouse or parent, but it can come with a price to our psyche. These moves and changes in our lives can cause stress, depression, loneliness, anxiety, and a sense of desperation at times. Our spouses arrive to their new units with a built-in network, perhaps some old friends, and exciting new adventures to come home and share with us. As we unpack boxes, get the kids settled into a new school, find a new doctor and dentist, begin looking for new employment, and try to make new friends, we too can find ourselves at a breaking point where we need to ask for help. Asking for help can seem harder for us at times.
You see, we also worry about stigma — stigma that asking for help could potentially hurt our spouse’s career or stigma that we could be viewed as weak and unable to handle the military life to other spouses. This could lead to alcohol or substance use/abuse as a coping mechanism or worse — depression or suicidal thoughts. We are brought along thinking we are the tough ones, the ones that can make these life changes without batting an eyelash. Ever see one of those t-shirts that say “Coast Guard Spouse … the toughest job in the Coast Guard?” Talk about added pressure! Now, I would say it is absolutely true, but those perceptions can potentially cause a spouse to feel there would be a stigma attached to asking for help. We need to break that stigma.
It is okay to ask for help — it is not a sign of weakness. I feel like it is courageous and shows strength. It is important to know the signs and symptoms and know what resources are available to you and your family. Whether you’re having financial problems, marital problems, alcohol problems, depression from missing your spouse while he/she is deployed for 3 months, or simply missing old friends, there is help out there for you and plenty of it if you find yourself or your child in a dark place. Should your children have issues adapting to the many life changes we ask of them (Ever move across the country with a 10th grader, enduring the emotional roller coaster attached to leaving one high school for another? Yikes), there is help for them. It does require strength and determination and most of all – knowledge that there could be a problem and intervening early and knowing what resources are available and how to access them.
As Coast Guard spouses, it is important that we get involved — get involved with local spouse clubs, get to know the ombudsman, and find other Coast Guard spouses in our area.
It is very important to know that we all struggle at various times along our journey as Coast Guard spouses and children, and regardless of what struggles we face and how tough things can often seem, this is a wonderful, family-oriented organization to be a part of, and there are many resources available to us to help when times get really tough. There are professionals who can help deal with depression, suicidal thoughts, and alcohol and substance abuse. The hardest part is taking that first step, disregarding the stigma, and simply asking for help.
I am so proud to be a part of the Coast Guard and have spent my entire adult life moving around this great country and meeting so many wonderful, caring people and their families. Together, let’s eliminate any stigma attached to asking for help and take care of ourselves, our families, and our favorite Coastie!