By Lt. Holly Black, suicide prevention coordinator, Naval Hospital Pensacola
It’s been three years, but I remember it like it was yesterday. My night shift just started and I received the reports on my patients. I was sitting at the nurse’s station reviewing orders when the phone rang and my co-worker answered it.
I hear, “Ensign Black, sure. Wait one, please.” I reach over and take the phone. “This is Ensign Black, can I help you?” A quiet voice said, “Holly, [she]’s gone. [She] killed herself.”
My name is Lt. Holly Black and I’m the suicide prevention coordinator for Naval Hospital Pensacola. I had been on active duty almost two years when a fellow ensign and nurse, my happy-go-lucky running buddy, committed suicide. I had completed several suicide prevention trainings in person and online, but nothing prepared me for the pain and guilt that I felt. Why did she do it? What did I miss? Could I have said something to change her mind? Three years later, I still ask myself these questions.
Hindsight is 20/20. The signs were there. When our ensign group went out together, I thought it was a little strange that she drank more than the rest of us. I chocked it up to her growing up in a small town. She was young and legal, so why not let loose a little bit? At work, she seemed disorganized, but time management is a skill that takes time to master as a new nurse. She just needed a little more time to get things down pat, right?
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing when I took the phone call that night at work. I asked, “Are you serious?” I wanted to know more details. The phone call came from a fellow nurse, a co-worker, who had been spending a lot of time with her recently. When I got off the phone, my charge nurse asked me if everything was okay. It was when I verbalized what had happened to someone else that I burst into tears. After sitting down with the nurse of the day, my charge nurse sent me home.
Instead of going home, I went to the home of one of my best friends, a fellow Navy nurse with whom I attended college with. She lived in the same apartment complex as my friend and shared in our love of running. For a while, we cried. Then, we sat in silence. As the night passed, we talked, we shared favorite memories and then we asked ourselves the same questions I mentioned before.
A few days later, I was scheduled to drive to an upcoming race we had been training for together. Instead, I was donning my dress blue uniform as her remains made their journey home.
At NHP, we provide training to all incoming personnel during command orientation and thereafter on an annual basis. We make our resources known—mental health, chaplain services and Fleet and Family Support. We ensure that our watch standers know who to call when someone is experiencing a crisis. We encourage our leaders to take their training a step further through SafeTALK workshops and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. We do our best to spread awareness and also celebrate those we have lost during Suicide Prevention Month.
The fact is that no one is immune to suicide. We must take care of ourselves and each other. ASK. CARE. TREAT. Every Sailor, every day.