Suicide: A battle that can be won

4 Jan 2010 | Cpl. Monty Burton

Over the years, Marines have fought and won many battles all over the world. One battle that has yet to be won is against an invisible enemy: suicide.

November was the first month since 2007 the Marine Corps didn’t have a reported suicide. Last year, 52 Marines committed suicide, marking the highest rate in Marine Corps history.

Suicide claimed the lives of 35 Marines in 2010, and the Marine Corps is fighting this enemy head on.

Issues stemming from legal, marital and financial problems and feelings of loneliness are known to impact a Marine’s decision to attempt suicide.

“Marines, especially the single ones, tend to feel forgotten about during the holiday season,” said Meghan K. Jones, director of Marine Corps Family Team, Camp Pendleton. “It’s when they feel like there are no other options that they begin to make the decision to take their life.”

Jones said the Marine Corps is working to do away with the negative stigma surrounding post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Marines are taking care of Marines and utilizing the resources available to them, including the new DSTRESS hotline, Military OneSource and unit chaplains. Jones believes the chain of command is the first line of defense.

“Our staff [non-commissioned officers] and unit leaders should take an active concern in the well being of their Marines,” Jones said. “Take the time to listen to them. Look them in the eye and ask them how they are doing, and if there is an issue, validate that Marine’s feelings.”

Col. Grant Olbrich, the Marine Corps Suicide Prevention Program director, said being involved in the lives of fellow Marines can help prevent suicide. He said Marines between the ages of 17-25, and below the rank of E-6 are at the highest risk of committing suicide.

“We need to know our Marines so well that we can anticipate a downward slope they may be on,” Olbrich said. “We as leaders in the Corps have the ability to reach into our fellow Marines’ lives and make an impact.”

Olbrich, who also heads the commandant-mandated DSTRESS Line, said the line can help in the fight against stress, depression and suicide. The service is open to all active duty, retired, reserve and former Marines, as well as their family members and loved ones.

“This is a line manned by Marines for Marines,” Olbrich said. “It’s completely anonymous, and somebody always answers.”

Lt. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force, said the DSTRESS line has the potential to be a helpful tool for the Marines and families of I MEF.

"DSTRESS is a program that has the potential to assist all members of the Marine family within I MEF,” he said. “We are working hard in conjunction with Headquarters Marine Corps and various support agencies to promote the benefits of the DSTRESS hotline."

Olbrich said the hotline is designed for any Marine, veteran, family member, sailor or loved one feeling any type of stress.

“It is not just a suicide line,” he said. “It is for all behavioral health issues. Even people who have never thought about committing suicide are candidates for the DSTRESS line.”

Even with new resources, suicide continues to be a problem that plagues the Marine Corps. Olbrich said Marines at all levels can help prevent suicide.

“This is something all Marines need to address,” said Olbrich. “The Marine Corps will never accept even just one suicide.”