PEARL HARBOR - During the combined U.S. Pacific Fleet, Commander Navy Region Hawaii and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Resilient Workforce summit Oct. 26-27, one presenter, Chief Petty Officer Jeremy Kelsey, shared his story of overcoming depression and attempted suicide.
The goal of the summit was to "Preserve a Resilient Workforce," and was held to allow Sailors and spouses the opportunity to interact with Operational Navy and fleet program subject matter experts, like Kelsey.
“A resilient work force is all about having the flexibility to adapt to changing situations and taking care of its people,” said Adm. Scott Swift, commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet. “I truly believe our most important resource is our people. By people I’m referring not just to Sailors, but also to our families and civilian Sailors as well – we cannot get the mission done without them and have an obligation to help all of them succeed.”
The summit held separate training sessions for triad leadership, officers and chiefs, E4-E6 Sailors, and command ombudsmen and family readiness group leaders.
Kelsey, assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3 "Merlins" has shared his story of survival around 100 times while traveling to multiple commands in the Pacific Fleet. He hopes his story of overcoming depression and what he called “full blown chaos” will bring awareness and improve how the Navy approaches a Sailor who may be considering ending their life.
“I feel we aren’t always hitting the mark with some of the suicide training I’ve gone to. I had an insight that folks just didn’t know,” said Kelsey. “The Navy doesn’t just send you to medical and kick you out and that sometimes is the stigma. When I found out that’s not what happens, I felt it needed to be shared.”
During his presentation, he spoke of possible reasons that might lead a Sailor to suicide and described the types of behavior that could potentially help someone recognize and prevent suicidal tendencies.
“Sometimes when a Sailor gets in trouble and gets asked why they did what they did, they respond with ‘I don’t know.’ Believe them because sometimes they honestly don’t know” said Kelsey. “We as leaders sometimes get stuck on what went wrong when we should try to find out what is happening in their life that caused them to do it.”
“Depression doesn’t always look like a kid on a park bench with his head down,” said Kelsey. “We don’t always have these huge signs that a person is struggling. I feel knowing about how your Sailors grew up or what’s happening in the personal lives can help you prevent them from suicide if they are suffering from depression.”
He also shared how he personally feels leaders should approach a young Sailor that may be considering suicide.
“Young Sailors today are more open to talking about issues. So now it becomes, ‘what do I do about it?’ The last thing you want to do with a young Sailor is get them to shut down. I feel they will do that quickly if they feel that what they’re saying isn’t important to you,” said Kelsey. “It’s very important to make them feel that what they are saying is important, that they are important and we’re going to help them fix the problem.”
Using his personal experience as a reference he addressed the role he feels leadership plays in the lives of Sailors and how caring, understanding and early response can save lives while encouraging success in the Navy.
“When I woke up in the hospital I knew at that moment I didn’t want to die. Because now I knew it was possible,” said Kelsey. “While at the hospital, my commanding officer asked me ‘what can I do to help you’ and I told him please just help me to get better.”
“It was overwhelming how much the Navy took care of me. All I had to do was ask someone to help me,” Kelsey said.
In addition to suicide prevention, experts offered sessions to hundreds of Sailors on topics to include equal opportunity, drug and alcohol awareness, command fitness leadership, sexual assault prevention and response, and career development.
For more information on suicide prevention please visit https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/.