Fighting the battle against suicide

30 Aug 2010 | Lance Cpl. Jacob D. Osborne

At a rate of 24 deaths per 100,000 people, 52 Marines took their lives last year.

Having exceeded the rate of civilian suicides, as well as its sister services, the Corps initiated the Marine Corps Suicide Prevention Program in hopes of reducing the number of suicides.

“Since we launched our new course, ‘Never Leave a Marine Behind,’ privates to sergeants now make up a smaller proportion of our suicides than they did previously,” said Col. Grant Olbrich, section head of Marine Corps Suicide Prevention Program, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.

The course is taught, trained and mandated to all Marine noncommissioned officers and the length of the course varies depending on the needs of the unit. The instructors of the course are fellow NCOs that have finished the Train-the-Trainer course and are certified for the training.

“We initially targeted our NCOs due to their unique position to impact their peers and the younger Marines they lead,” Olbrich added.

The reason NCOs are in such an exclusive situation is because they work more closely with junior Marines and typically know them better, he said.

“It is very important to get to know your Marines. If you get to know them then you will know when they are getting out of character,” said Brenda Ray, a health and education coordinator at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga.

Olbrich said multiple stressors are usually a precursor to suicide or an attempt.

“If someone in your shop is having some difficulties, has experienced some significant loss in their life, or has demonstrated a desire to die, you need to take on the responsibility of getting them to a care-giving professional for an evaluation,” said Cmdr. Charles R. Kessler, chaplain for Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C.

Depression could be a sign that somebody is considering suicide, but some people show a renewed sense of calm because they have come to terms with their problem, Kessler said.

He added that 75 to 80 percent of all suicides are related to depression, but there is no typical or common reason for someone to commit suicide.

Abusing alcohol or drugs, deliberately injuring themselves, extreme mood swings, giving away of personal possessions, talking about wanting to die and threatening suicide are all common signs that someone is suicidal, Kessler said.

The Marine Corps Suicide Prevention Program has paired up with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors to help families who are victim to suicide. 

“TAPS is recognized nationally as the leading provider of comfort and care to anyone who has suffered the loss of a military loved one,” Olbrich said. “Our Casualty Affairs Branch at Headquarters Marine Corps and local chaplains from the unit are always available to assist grieving families.”

The Marine Corps Suicide Prevention Program is only one of many to help prevent suicide. Also available is the chaplain services, counselors, suicide hotlines, unit medical, chain of command and many more. 

“Education is the key to prevention. We need to let Marines know that there is help,” Ray said.

For more information on suicide prevention, visit

Headquarters Marine Corps