Stand-down at Navy base in Bahrain to increase awareness of expanded mental health services
Stars and Stripes April 12, 2023
U.S. troops deployed to Bahrain are taking part in a two-day stand-down as the Navy seeks to increase awareness of and access to mental health services at the strategic Middle East command.
The event, which started Wednesday, includes information booths and presentations by mental health professionals and command leaders, among them Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. 5th Fleet.
The involvement of Cooper and other leaders is vital in communicating the importance of mental health and demonstrating that the well-being of personnel is a priority for the command, said Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins, a spokesman for NAVCENT/U.S. 5th Fleet.
The stand-down helps inform them and their families about expanded mental health resources and services at the base under a two-year pilot program established in February 2022.
“The new options under this pilot program enacted last year have reduced the number of patients who would have been evacuated to the U.S. for treatment by 40%, which enables more personnel to remain on duty here in Bahrain and with their family members that are with them,” Hawkins said.
Those services include an improved waterfront resiliency center offering military family life counseling and workshops, among other resources, the Navy said in a June 14, 2022, statement.
Additionally, the Navy has removed some barriers to services. For example, people no longer need a primary care doctor’s referral to seek help at a walk-in clinic, and service members and dependents can stay in Bahrain to receive inpatient therapy through on off-base provider.
On average, 5th Fleet coordinates inpatient mental health support for about 100 service members or family members each year, he noted.
It is not just the responsibility of mental health professionals to provide the support, Hawkins said.
“It is a command, it is a leadership function to take care of our people,” he said.
Naval Support Activity Bahrain is home to NAVCENT/U.S. 5th Fleet and a Coast Guard unit. It has nearly 8,000 troops stationed at the base and throughout the fleet’s area of responsibility, including about 6,000 active-duty and reserve service members, he said.
Introduction of the pilot program followed a Navy push to address mental health treatment needs as the service grapples with concerns about the number of suicides among sailors. In 2022, 70 active-duty sailors died by suicide.
There were 59 and 65 suicide deaths of active-duty sailors in 2021 and 2020, respectively, according to data on the Navy’s website.
In 2018, the Bahrain base saw the suicide of Vice Adm. Scott Stearney, who was serving as commander of NAVCENT/U.S. 5th Fleet.