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Navy expands suicide prevention program servicewide

By COURTNEY MABEUS | The Virginian-Pilot (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 15, 2017

The Navy has rolled out a program aimed at providing added support for sailors considered at risk for suicide.

Sailor Assistance and Intercept for Life, or SAIL, was announced servicewide earlier this month and is now available at all Fleet and Family Support Center locations.

The voluntary program works by linking sailors who have demonstrated suicidal behavior with Fleet and Family Support Center counselors trained in assessing suicide risk

Those counselors remain in contact with the participant for three months, said Capt. Michael Fisher, director of the Navy Suicide Prevention Branch. They can help identify stressors, like financial issues, and link the sailor with resources, he said.

Participation in SAIL is not intended to replace therapy.

"A caring contact is all it is," Fisher said.

SAIL is patterned after the Marine Corps' Marine Intercept Program, which began in 2014. A pilot of the Navy's version began in August in the Pacific Northwest. At least 91 sailors accepted SAIL's services out of 175 referrals between Aug. 28 and Feb. 3, according to Navy data.

The problem of suicide among troops has plagued military leaders in recent years as numbers spiked. Navy Personnel Command data shows 51 active duty sailors and 10 reservists killed themselves in 2016, according to preliminary numbers. In 2015, the numbers were 43 active duty sailors and 14 reservists.

About 40 percent of sailors who commit suicide had a previous attempt or impulse, Fisher said. Removing stigmas that prevent sailors from seeking mental health treatment or from helping those who appear to be in danger has been an ongoing challenge. The Navy has promoted intervention programs to help sailors recognize and respond to suicidal or risky behavior among their peers.

"We want people to be willing to step forward if they're having challenges," Fisher said.

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Sailors from Naval Station Mayport's color guard fold the flag during a ceremony on the base's beach Sept. 13, 2016. The ceremony hosted by the Fleet and Family Support Center was to bring awareness to suicide prevention and honor servicemembers who have fallen from suicide. The Navy is providing added support for sailors considered at risk for suicide.
MASS COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST 2ND CLASS MARK ANDREW HAYS/U.S. NAVY

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