MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- When a Marine is in trouble he or she should be able to turn to the Marine to their left and right for help.
However, peers may not notice signs of suicide or fear that exposing a friend’s dark thoughts could negatively effect his or her military career.
In order to educate the importance of stepping in for a friend in need, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune’s Headquarters and Support Battalion has recently trained its Marines in suicide prevention through Never Leave a Marine Behind. The course illustrates the importance of peer involvement when dealing with suicide.
“We’re trying to engage Marines and get them to talk about suicide,” said Master Sgt. Orlando Reyes, the HQSPTBn operations chief. “The more openly we talk about suicide, suicide attempts or any characteristics of suicide, the more comfortable Marines will be when discussing it with their peers.”
Reyes feels that the stigma associated with discussing suicide can keep concerned Marines from asking questions that lead to help for a suicidal Marine.
“If Marines are taught, trained and shown asking for help is not a weakness, and it’s not so bad to talk about suicide, then they can approach a Marine to help them or to ask for help,” said Reyes.
“This class opens the eyes of not just the Marines who are feeling down but also others who can do something about it,” Reyes added.
The training involved a multi-media presentation. The PowerPoint and videos were kept short and led to enlightening guided discussions.
One video highlighted how the transformation from a “squared away” Marine to a troubled one can take place and showed how peers could help. Another video included interviews with family, leaders and colleagues of Marines who committed suicide.
The videos also emphasized the struggles a Marine can face handling deployment or at home.
“These are the kind of things that can affect every Marine, whether they’ve deployed or served in garrison throughout their careers,” said Reyes. “You may experience financial hardships, self doubt, work stressors or depression. These things were discussed in the classes and were prevalent in the presentation.”
Sgt. Darwin Cornejo, an assistant substance abuse control officer with HQSPTBn and a Never Leave a Marine Behind training instructor, said in the past classes similar to this one were held in large groups.
“Now, the groups are smaller, and the instructor can get to know the Marines there,” said Cornejo. “It makes it feel like I get a personal relationship with all of them. I make sure everyone participates, and I try to make it comfortable for them to open up.”
Being able to open up makes a big difference for participants. In the past Reyes and Cornejo have had Marines share their personal experiences with suicide in a class and have been able to give guidance to Marines struggling with negative thoughts.
“It makes a big difference when you know someone who’s attempted or committed suicide,” said Cornejo. “You’re left with a feeling of ‘what if?’ You have to take suicide seriously. You never know who’s going to need you. It could be your best friend.”
Every Marine trained in the class learns of resources they can use if they think a peer is considering suicide.
“Ask them the tough question: Are you thinking of hurting yourself?” said Reyes. “People avoid the question because if they hear yes, they are not prepared to deal with it. That’s why this training exists.”
Students in the class are taught the ‘Recognize, Ask, Care, Escort’ method of handling a situation where somebody is suicidal. RACE teaches how seeing the signs of distress, asking about them, caring about the Marine and the outcome, and escorting him or her to help can save a life.
To speak to a trained counselor about suicidal thoughts call 1-800-273-TALK.