Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Getting help

For much of the past year, I spent every other Monday talking to the newest Sailors at our command.  I'll admit that my first few talks were rather fluffy (nice words but lacked depth), but after about two classes I realized I needed to think a bit harder about what I was saying.  I started looking at what everyone else said (from the First Class running the Indoctrination Division to the Captain) and I found a few holes I could fill.  So I started focusing on a few areas:

1. I told the class that their time at the command would be hard.  They would work crazy hours, have to qualify fast, and likely make a lot of mistakes since for most of them it was their first command.  I told them that stress was normal and that they needed to knuckle down and attack qualifications one piece at a time to get through it.

2. They would have problems.  They would have bad days, days when they wanted to call it quits and tell everyone to f%^& off.  I specifically told them on those days to go get help, either from their fellow Shipmates, their LPO, Chief, our clinical counselor, or even me.

I actually caught an earful from an older Sailor the one day, who accused me of pandering to the "current generation" by encouraging them to seek a counselor if something went wrong.  His response was along the lines of "Back in my day, we just sucked it up and moved on."

His response is also complete bullshit.

Back in "that day," the Navy lost multiple people to drunk driving, many of them due to being depressed.  Navy Safety Center doesn't have great statistics, but you can see an overall drop in the US here.  I've had more than a few conversations with crusty Sailors that have bemoaned our drop in intestinal fortitude, but all admitted that they lost more Sailors due to depression related problems.

Are we really becoming soft if we tell Sailors to seek help?  I don't think so.  I used to tell our Sailors that I'd rather hear about their problems early than later when they had grown to the point I couldn't do much about them.  We used to have frequent sessions, normally around the smoke pit, to complain about whatever was happening in our lives.  I worry that as we remove the smoke pit and make our lunch rooms less private, people are bottling up all their problems and not reaching out until it's too late.

A Sailor seeking counseling is not a lost cause.  When I worked at Second Fleet, our Admiral found that 86% of the Sailors that sought counseling were good to go after one treatment, and the majority did not need counseling after that and continued to perform well.  We need to get out of the habit of calling everyone a pansy for seeking help.  When we don't encourage people to seek help and yet put them in stressful situations, why are we surprised when they occasionally lash out or hurt themselves and others?

We as leaders own this problem, and it's well within the lifelines to solve.  Tell your Sailors that need help to get it, so that you can get them back to work faster and they can get on with their lives.