U.S. Naval Forces Central Command held a mental health stand-down this week in Bahrain — less than two months after the Navy released a mental health playbook to raise awareness about mental health resources and the responsibilities of commanders.
The stand-down comes amid a two-year, mental health pilot program in Bahrain aimed at expanding mental health options for sailors and their families, ushering in a revamped walk-in clinic and an intensive outpatient program.
The stand-down, April 12-13, included mental health presentations from professionals to generate awareness regarding support services available to sailors and their families.
“This stand-down allows leaders at every level of our organization to raise awareness and better prepare our teams and families to recognize, discuss, prevent and address mental health concerns,” said Capt. Hamish Kirkland, NAVCENT’s chief of staff, in a Navy news release.
In February, the Navy released a “Mental Health Playbook” in an attempt to facilitate mental health conversations between commanders and their sailors, and eliminate any stigma associated with seeking help.
“We’re aware of the challenges that many have experienced in getting sailors to the mental health resources available to them,” Rear Adm. Brett Mietus, director of the Navy Culture and Force Resilience Office, told reporters in February. The playbook is “a solution to addressing some of these challenges, putting tools in the hands of every Navy leader, no matter the rank.”
“Our goal is that everyone in our great Navy develops a shared understanding about how to conduct mental health preventative maintenance for our people, and then where to go for additional resources,” he said.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said at the annual Surface Navy Association conference in January that suicides in the fleet are a “vexing” problem for the Navy, and that current efforts to improve mental health were not sufficient.
A total of 70 sailors died by suicide in 2022, an increase from 59 suicides in 2021 and 65 in 2020, according to the Navy. That includes the suicides of three sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier George Washington in April 2022.
The Navy’s fiscal 2024 budget request asks for $102 million in mental health funding – up from the $74 million last year.
“Funds support virtual mental health initiatives, as well as efforts to recruit, train, and retain the mental health Force to address the fierce competition for talent in the face of a national shortage of mental health providers,” the budget document says.
Troops and veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can call 988 and select option 1 to speak with a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.