The Navy has started providing sailors mental health support in the early stages of deployments so they are better equipped to manage common stressors they may encounter while getting underway.
Under the Navy’s new Departure & Separation Program, sailors on six surface ships were provided access to licensed counselors and specially trained educators during their first two to six weeks of deployment.
“They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it’s no different with mental health,” said Kim Speed, a Counseling Advocacy Program supervisor who worked with sailors aboard the guided-missile cruiser Monterey during the ship’s restriction of movement (ROM) period, in a Navy news release. The Monterey departed Norfolk in February with the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group.
The program launched ahead of schedule in December when leadership aboard the six ships — the cruisers Monterey and Vella Gulf and the guided-missile destroyers Mitscher, Mahan, Jason Dunham and Laboon — sent an urgent request to Navy Installations Command’s Fleet and Family Support Program about providing emotional support for their sailors.
Some crew members were coping with a series of challenges and exhibiting heightened stress levels stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, loss of shipmates, the pressures of pre-deployment work-ups, operational tempo and restriction of movement (ROM) periods.
Sailor Assistance and Intercept for Life procedures will be modified to require commanding officers to verify that sailors who have voiced suicidal thoughts or exhibited suicidal behavior contact s SAIL case manager.
As a result, the Navy sent trained experts to those ships where they could provide sailors with non-medical counseling, group workshops, walk-around engagements, one-on-one consultations and psychoeducation. Additionally, the program addresses typical issues that sailors may encounter while deployed like co-parenting at a distance, stress and sleep management, and financial readiness, the Navy said.
A total of 10 volunteers were assigned to the six ships during their respective ROM periods, and three volunteers participated in the first month of deployments.
Mental health services must be normalized in the military for our service members to properly utilize them, say the authors of this commentary.
“The Departure & Separation program was invaluable to Laboon,” said Cmdr. Charles C. Spivey, the ship’s commanding officer, in the release.
“The quality training for the command and one-on-one sessions improved each Sailor’s personal readiness,” Spivey said. “Laboon was better able to prepare for deployment because the curriculum gave our crew new skills and appropriate resources to be successful while we are gone.”
According to Rachel Cooke, a Transition Assistance Management Program Employment Education Services facilitator, the Laboon’s command master chief gave her a tour on her first day aboard the ship and identified sailors who needed additional support. That showed her that he and the ship’s leadership took mental health seriously, she said.
“He knew who needed my help, what was going on with them and worked to make sure they got the help they needed, one way or another,” she said.
The program officially launched in December 2020 — a month ahead of schedule.
“Too many people, especially active duty service members, resist counseling or avoid it until things in their life really take a downward turn,” Speed said. “If someone is struggling, it’s best to get them help early on rather than wait until they start exhibiting problematic behavior.
“Issues can start small, like being worried about finances, not hearing from a loved one or being concerned about a friend’s health,” Speed said. “There’s no shame in talking to someone like me about any of it, even if it seems minor.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the program launched early in response to a request from leaders.