By Lt. Cmdr. Robert W. Peters III, Chaplain Corps
Naval Chaplaincy School and Center
Suicide is often a difficult topic for many to discuss. When I was younger, I believed many of the stereotypes. I thought suicide was attempted by the “crazy” or the “weak.” Now older, and working as a chaplain, experience, schooling and training have taught me differently. When given the chance, I like to help people realize that these stereotypes are just that – stereotypes. And, when they ask me, “What changed your mind?” I tell them, “pain.”
I think most people understand pain. It’s a feeling that ranges from fairly uncomfortable to extremely unbearable. When I talk about physical pain, people get it because almost everyone has experienced it. Most will agree and try to do whatever they can to make it stop. When pain lasts for a long period of time, many wish they could go to sleep and make the pain go away. Sometimes, for those even willing to admit it, the thought of death can appear to be a better option than the pain they are enduring. Through experience over the years, I’ve learned that pain is not only physical but emotional.
Emotional pain can be brought on by various life events including, the death of loved ones, relationship struggles, transitions and deployments. There may be no physical sign of the pain produced by these events because emotional pain is mostly invisible. But what do we do with emotional pain?
Most people know what to do with physical pain. When I was a young Marine, I had a severe case of sinusitis while on a military flight. As we were preparing to land, the physical pain felt like a nine-inch nail was being slowly pushed through the side of my head. I followed my doctor’s instructions, took the medications and, in time, I was healed. Physical pain is readily accepted by most in society because it can be seen and treated fairly easily.
While not visible, emotional pain needs to be cared for as well. X-rays and scans saw the physical damage from the sinusitis, but they cannot detect damage caused by emotional pain. Just because emotional pain is not visible doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. Self-medication with drugs and alcohol are not the answer. However, self-care can make a difference. It’s not about going at it alone; it’s about taking charge of your own health by recognizing when it’s time to reach out to someone who can help you find positive ways to promote recovery, just as you would if you were encountering physical pain.
Navy chaplains are some of the professionals available to help service members and their families with emotional pain. Some may only see us as a provider of religious services. But we’re much more. We care for and about every service member and their families. Navy chaplains advise leaders and families on morals and ethics, and we have the opportunity of being “where it matters, when it matters, with what matters.”
Your Navy chaplain is here to help and serve you with total confidentiality. This means anything you share with a Navy chaplain, religious program specialist or chaplain assistant intended to be confidential, cannot be shared with anyone else.
Everyone has a pain limit threshold. It doesn’t matter if it’s physical or emotional pain. Very few people can live at an extreme level of pain for long periods of time without looking for ways to make it stop. Every year, we train more than 1,000 chaplains in the Navy so that we are better equipped to serve and help you. If you or anyone you know is dealing with emotional pain, please talk with your Navy chaplain or seek other professional care. Seeking help is a sign of strength. It’s OK to speak up when you’re feeling down.
Editor’s note: The Military Crisis Line provides 24/7 confidential support to service members, veterans and their families and can be reached by calling 1-800-273-TALK (option 1), visiting www.militarycrisisline.net, or texting 838255.
To learn more about the warning signs of emotional pain that may indicate suicide risk, visit www.suicide.navy.mil.