Amid rise in service member suicides, military seeks to fight stigma about seeking help


HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – To combat a rising number of suicides among service members, the military is trying to fight stigma about seeking for mental health problems.

Maj. Brian Minietta, a deputy division chaplain for the 25th Infantry Divison, said they want soldiers to know that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Military suicides rose 15% last year, according to a recent report from the Department of Defense. Officials said while Hawaii numbers haven’t seen a significant increase, one more death is one too many.

“It’s hard in the military because when we think about vulnerabilities, we think of weaknesses,“ Minietta said. “We’re trying to counter that.”

Minietta said every unit has an embedded military family life counselor. There are also behavioral health officers and chaplains.

He said the Army is constantly adding new programs that focus on mental health and emotional well-being. These include the Spiritual Readiness Initiative, additional education on resources, and family relationship programs.

“Most times that as suicide is completed, not all of them, it’s a relationship breakdown,” he said. “A lot of times that’s a factor. We often have weekend events where we bring families together.”

He said that a big hurdle is having soldiers ask for help in the first place. Minietta believes that oftentimes people are afraid that if they access mental health resources their position will be affected.

“They want to keep their jobs,” Minietta said. “The stigma out there is that if I ask for help, somebody is going to think that I’m flawed, or that I’m broken, and they’re going to take my clearance away.

“And the reality is 99% of the time it doesn’t impact your clearance at all. Whether it’s chaplain, behavioral, health, military, family life counselor, we all have various levels of confidentiality.”

Rick Tabor works with several mental health and veteran nonprofits. In the Navy, he worked at a clinic on the Kaneohe Marine base back in 1979.

“Back in the day, folks could only get 10 sessions,” Tabor said. “If they needed more than ten sessions or something was chronic, then we would have to discharge them.”

He said that the military has made big steps with mental health screenings and resources, but the trouble comes from when people don’t ask for help.

“For most people, if they actually can share what’s happening and just share honestly, that alone is going to be helpful for them,” Tabor said.

If you or someone you know is struggling, military or not, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255

Other mental health resources:

  • Department of Veterans Affairs: (808) 674-2414
  • Aloha United Way Helpline Center: Call 2-1-1
  • Hawaii Cares: (808) 832-3100
  • Department of Health, Mental Health Division Eligibility Line: (808) 643-2643
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness Hawaii: (808) 591-1297

Copyright 2021 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

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