As suicide rates rise, mental health experts encourage military members to seek help

Published: Oct. 13, 2020 at 7:20 PM EDT
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HAVELOCK, N.C. (WITN) - Mental health experts from The Naval Clinic at Cherry Point are working hard to make sure military members there have access to the resources they need, as they struggle to cope with the stress of the pandemic.

One psychiatrist at the clinic says that the military community is a reflection of society as a whole, and they’re experiencing the same issues many others are in the COVID-19 era.

“Depression, anxiety, increased occupational stress, you know, home stress related,” explains Lt. Cdr. Phillip Guajardo.

For Guajardo, keeping the fighters in the fight, is among their top priorities.

“These are really significant issues that impact our brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers,” Guajardo says.

According to the Associated Press, military suicides have increased by as much as 20% during the pandemic.

So has the need for the mental health services available to active duty service members.

“During the pandemic, Navy Medicine, and our clinic and general, has made a priority to expand our available to options to our service members who are at the front line,” says Guajardo.

Their mission: to remove the stigma of mental health among service members.

“Mental health is health in general. It’s an ongoing fight in order to kind of see folks get help,” Guajardo adds.

One couple we spoke to last August, has experienced the loss of family and friends first hand.

“I didn’t go to medical to get help, because when you do you get labeled as ‘weak,’” explains Michael Nicolai, a former Marine.

For Nicolai and his fiancé Sarrah Roberts, who lost her first husband to suicide post-service, they say removing that stigma is the most important step to getting help.

“That’s what mental health is. In your mind it’s easier to just finish it than risk your reputation, risk your career, risk your family,” Roberts adds.

The couple says that the military, as a whole, is taking the right steps, but the actions of individuals within the military still discourage members from seeking help.

The experts at the Naval Health Clinic say they are also increasing efforts to connect members leaving the service with resources in their new location to help provide continued support when their service is complete.

Copyright 2020 WITN. All rights reserved.

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