Recovery Month / Suicide Prevention Month guest blog: Retired Chief recounts his suicide attempt, treatment and recovery

What follows is the fourth guest blog post in a series planned for the month of September — both National Recovery Month and National Suicide Prevention Month.

National Recovery Month, formerly known as National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month, is a national observance aimed at informing people that addiction treatment and mental health services can enable those with a substance use or mental disorder to live a healthy and rewarding life.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 3,000 people commit suicide every day, about one million per year. National Suicide Prevention Month is designed to raise awareness that suicide is preventable, improve education and spread information about suicide, and decrease the stigma of suicide.

In light of these co-occurring observances, the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steve Cantrell is trying to break the stigma of asking for help. No matter what issue you may be facing — substance use/abuse, finances, depression, anxiety, fear, guilt — there are so many programs available for help, both in and out of the Coast Guard. Don’t suffer in silence. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Written by Paul Farrell

FarrellMy name is Paul Farrell, and I’m the civilian resource coordinator for the Force Readiness Command in Norfolk. I retired from the Coast Guard in January 2014. I was a YNC with 27 years of service.

In 2003, I attempted suicide. I was a Petty Officer First Class at the time, married, and was going through some financial hardships that my wife wasn’t even aware of. I’m not going to bore you with details, but the day I hit bottom, I planned on going home to talk to my family and friends to get some help for the issues. Suicide never crossed my mind.

The last thing I remember was driving home and the next thing I knew, I was laying on the ground a few miles from home on a back road in NC. I had shot myself in the chest and cut my wrists.

All things considered, looking back, I am the most blessed man on earth. I had the right people at the right time there taking care of me and my family, starting with the sheriff’s deputy who called me an air ambulance, to the Coast Guard that was a huge help to my family with the aftermath. In particular, Coast Guard Mutual Assistance helped us avoid financial ruin.

It’s been mentioned a few times in different videos and publications about the stigma of depression and about misconceptions on what it could do to your career. Seeking help really is a sign of strength!

A person’s career is not necessarily in jeopardy if they seek help for depression. Even 12 years ago, the Coast Guard realized that depression is a potentially deadly disease and treated my situation medically, not administratively. People worry about their security clearance – I did. Back then, it was automatically suspended after my suicide attempt but after following the treatment plan and maintaining my medications, the command requested my clearance be reinstated and it was.

As a result of the things I did financially and some things I did to hide those issues, I did go to captain’s mast. My Captain reduced me to YN2 and, believe it or not, that was my turning point in my career.

I wanted to get my first class crows back as soon as possible and make a difference. I made a promise to my Chief Warrant Officer the day after my mast that I would get my first class crows back and I would make Chief before I retired.

Farrell family picture

Farrell with his wife, daughters and granddaughter

Through the help and guidance from him and my command, I advanced to YN1 five months later and didn’t look back.

The Coast Guard also knew that I was not the only victim of my suicide attempt; my family and my shipmates were also affected and the command and Work-Life staff worked hard to make sure everyone touched was offered assistance to help the healing process.

Although it can be viewed as a selfish act, people with suicidal ideations are not always thinking of themselves – some believe that the world would be better off without them. They might think it would be better financially, or they may simply feel like a burden to others. But, if they are thinking about suicide, please realize they are not thinking entirely rationally to begin with. Having been through this, I can tell you without a doubt, the world is a much better place with me in it and I’m sure everyone in my life would agree.

As friends and shipmates learned about my suicide attempt, many of them called to keep tabs on my recovery and many reached out to me and my family offering any help they could. I didn’t need the suicide attempt to get that help, I just needed to ask! I was given a second chance at my life, and a second chance to be a better husband, father, brother, friend and shipmate.

This is one area where being an engaged and involved leader is a must! As a shipmate, friend, or supervisor … if you see someone not acting “normal,” then take the time to ask how they are doing and if everything is alright, let them know you care and are there if they ever need help. Hopefully, the person will tell you honestly if they are okay or not, the honest answer may lead to further intervention, but even if they aren’t being up front, the fact that you cared enough to ask and talk to them may be that one thing they needed to make it another day, and that day may be the one they needed to get through their issues and/or seek help.

Farrell on active-dutyI would like to close with one reminder: please keep in mind that the programs are here to help you, not to automatically end your career. And if you are in a place where these thoughts are going through your mind, get help. If nothing else, talk to a friend or shipmate!

We have been reminded of all the awesome support resources the Coast Guard has set up, but no matter what … PLEASE TALK TO SOMEONE! You will get the help you need.

I can tell you with certainty — the world is a much better place because you’re still in it! Thank you for the opportunity to share my story.

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