Once a month, Coast Guard Compass will feature “Dear Coast Guard Family,” a column for Coast Guard families by Coast Guard spouse Rachel Conley. Rachel is married to her high school sweetheart, Chief Warrant Officer James Conley, and is the mother of three children. Rachel passionately serves as a Coast Guard Ombudsman and advocate of Coast Guard families. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the United States Coast Guard Ombudsman of the Year Award.
In the past five years, 10 Coast Guard reservists have died by suicide, an average of two a year. That percentage is lower than that of other military branches and on par with the civilian suicide rate. It’s also small enough that statisticians and health professionals have difficulty pinpointing patterns that would provide the ones left behind reliable answers or contexts.
September marks suicide awareness month. While this campaign lasts just one month every year, suicide awareness does not end on the 30th. Our commitment to each other endures year-round. We support each other in the field, and we support each other at home. If you or someone you know is struggling with one of life’s obstacles, be there for them. Together, we can and will overcome these obstacles.
While military kids can be incredibly resilient, sometimes they need some extra help in navigating the emotional upheaval they experience. Several studies in recent years have shown that military kids have a higher risk of mental health issues and depression than children in civilian households. As we wrap up the Month of the Military Child, a military expert in psychology, and a mother of two children herself, offers insight into why there is an increase in depression and how to respond to it.
Just be there: That’s my challenge to you during Suicide Prevention Month this September. Whether you reconnect with an old friend, grab coffee with a co-worker, or email a distant family member, showing that you care can mean the world to a person who is going through a tough time.
While September is Suicide Prevention Month, reminders about how families can access mental health assistance are important all year around. Starting next month, Tricare will begin easing some of its restrictions on getting mental health and drug treatment coverage. Military kids and spouses may struggle with stress, depression, or suicidal thoughts. As military families, we take pride in our resilience and our strength in overcoming the challenges. But refusing help is not a sign of strength. When it comes to emotional pain and mental health care, take advantage of all of the resources available. Don’t let the mask of strength block access to help when you or your family needs it.
We can all play a role in preventing suicide, but many people don’t know what they can do to support the person in their life who’s going through a difficult time. During Suicide Prevention Month this September, I encourage you to play an active role in suicide prevention by learning about available sources of support and treatment and by simply being there for people in your life.
It was my honor and privilege to talk with Senior Chief Dasher last week. She travels nationwide to talk about how she overcame such a significant crisis in her life. It takes tremendous courage to share her story, and I am grateful for her willingness to use it for the benefit of others.
A person’s career is not necessarily in jeopardy if they seek help for depression. Even 12 years ago, the Coast Guard realized that depression is a potentially deadly disease and treated my situation medically, not administratively.
September is both National Recovery Month and National Suicide Prevention Month. 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.