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Public Affairs : Superintendent's message on mental wellness

Mental Health: Be a Friend, Think ACE

Dear West Point community,

As a result of a number of mental wellness concerns within our West Point community recently, I want to talk about mental health. We often focus on physical health and well-being, but we tend to ignore mental wellness.

Mental health is a real thing. We know when something is physically wrong, because our body tells us. But that is not as clear with mental health. Left unchecked, it can overwhelm us to the point where we might consider hurting ourselves or taking our own life.

Mental health is something we generally don’t like to talk about, because we may think it’s a sign of weakness. But it is critically important that we do address it, whether it’s affecting us, or someone around us.

West Point is a high-tempo, fast-paced environment, whether you’re a cadet, staff or faculty member. You’re juggling multiple things at once – schoolwork or your job, extracurricular activities, military duties and family time.

We pack a lot into each day for our cadets by design, with the intent of helping to teach them time management and balancing priorities, while preparing them for their future careers as Army officers. That can create a lot of stress.

There are many other things that cause stress and affect our mental well-being: personal or relationship issues, like a break-up, financial issues, and many others.

These things may lead one to feel trapped or hopeless about life, withdraw and isolate oneself from others or even increased alcohol or substance abuse. Before long, it could lead one to consider taking their own life as a way to escape the situation.

If you experience a life-crisis that starts to make you feel overwhelmed, depressed, isolated to the point of hurting yourself or taking your own life – please remember that it is OK to ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it is a sign of strength. It takes courage to admit you need help, but never, NEVER be afraid to ask for it.

Talk to somebody – a friend, a co-worker, or battle buddy, someone in your chain of command, a faculty member, chaplain or a spiritual counselor, anyone you feel comfortable having the conversation with.

If you know someone feeling this way or if you suspect someone might be thinking about hurting him or herself, don’t be afraid to have the conversation.

It’s a difficult conversation to have with someone; there’s a fear of being wrong about someone needing help or the assumption that it’s not your place to have the conversation and someone else will do it.

Never assume someone else will do it, because when “someone else” comes along, it could be too late. Just as it takes courage to admit you need help, it also takes courage to approach someone and ask if they need help.

 

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Don’t avoid or judge that person, or try to be a therapist or counselor. Just let them know you care. Remember the acronym ACE:

• ASK: Ask if they’re OK, and ask them directly if they’re thinking about suicide.

• CARE: Actively listen to what they have to say. Show them you’re concerned and that you care. Discuss and care about what is troubling them.

• ESCORT: Bring them to someone who can provide professional assistance (medical, chaplain, etc.) and don’t leave them alone.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or struggling with an issue that’s leaving you feeling depressed or helpless, do not be afraid to ask for help.

We all need a helping hand from time to time, and help is available. Have the courage to ask and reach out before it may be too late. Remember that you’re not alone – there are others who can help.

Finally, look out for each other. That’s what battle buddies do. Look for warning signs and don’t be afraid to ask if someone needs help.

Sometimes, letting someone know that you care and that you have their back can make all the difference.

Beat Navy!

Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr.
Superintendent