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Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks' Remarks at the DoD Suicide Prevention Recognition Ceremony

Good morning, everyone, and let me add my special thanks to Under Secretary Cisneros, who has been such a leader on suicide prevention-- all our harmful behavior prevention efforts and so much more and we will deeply miss you. 

Well, as I said, good morning to everyone who's here. I want to thank you for joining me- taking the time out of your day to join me and acknowledging the importance of the suicide prevention work that we're recognizing here today. 

Taking care of our people is a top priority for Secretary Austin and for me. To advance this priority, it's important to assure potential recruits, service members, and their families of access to care when they need it… That they are entering—and that we're promoting—a safe workplace… And that we value their wellbeing. Because we do.

So, this work goes a long way in supporting the health, welfare, and readiness of our Total Force.

It takes devoted teams to tackle the difficult subject of suicide prevention. Over the years, we've understood that we cannot go about this work with a one-size-fits-all approach. Suicide has no single root cause or solution. That's why the Department is taking a public health approach—because this problem requires a range of prevention methods and treatment options to get after it. 

Today's recipients have been working tirelessly to implement that approach. They've taken major steps to promote connectedness, belonging, and community… To find creative ways to promote new and available healthcare options... And to do the challenging work needed to spread hope, address stigma and other barriers to care, and drive a healthier culture.

So, it's an honor to participate in one of the many events the Department has planned for Suicide Prevention Month, and to recognize the outstanding suicide prevention programming that our honorees developed this past year. 

Our honorees' work on suicide prevention has been more than conceptual. They've launched campaigns to get the word out on life-changing information. They've organized outreach events to increase awareness. They've helped match people to the community support systems that best suit their needs. And they've nurtured connectedness at every level—from individuals to the squadron, command, and battalion levels—to help save lives. 

These programs, and the people who implement and manage them, have made the fight against suicide a top priority. And there's plenty of achievements to show for it. 

You'll notice that many of our recipients today are based at OCONUS locations. Service members stationed in remote or overseas installations are at higher risk of feeling isolated, and can be more challenged in accessing mental health services. So, the Department has focused on addressing the special sources of stress that these service members might experience.

You'll also notice that each program being recognized today is unique in its approach. It underscores why a community-based, public health approach is ideal for tackling this problem.  I am proud to see each service approaching suicide prevention with the seriousness it deserves and with innovative programs and tools tied to what they're seeing and hearing within their ranks. 

As Secretary Austin says, "mental health is health," and there is no shame in asking for help.  

Open and inclusive communication builds the bridge needed to reach and serve our service members. That's why the Department is working to de-stigmatize language that prevents people from seeking help, including by removing stigmatizing language from hundreds of policy documents. 

We've also been focused on promoting resources that support pathways to care. Our Veterans and Military Crisis Line, for example, allows for immediate and confidential assistance when someone needs help. A service member or veteran can dial a three-digit number, 9-8-8, then press one, and be connected to a crisis support operator.

In addition, Military OneSource offers non-medical, free, and confidential counseling to service members and their families. And TRICARE provides various mental health care options, including a telehealth choice.

In short: We continue to develop the care that our people need. And we remain laser-focused on creating programming based on evidence-based best practices.

The Department's suicide prevention programming teams are committed to adapting and addressing mental healthcare challenges in our communities. During the pandemic, for instance, the Department expanded access to care through technology and telehealth options. And because of the positive feedback for those, many of these advances have become permanent.

As new research reveals the latest information in suicide prevention, I know that each of you in this room and well beyond it will remain relentless in bringing up-to-date resources and programming to our communities.

Lastly, we commend those that have the strength and courage, as Under Secretary Cisneros pointed out, to reach out and say, "I'm not okay right now." Please know that the programs you provide help to cultivate a safe and welcoming environment where individuals feel open enough to come forward. In addition, the resources that you have created promote opportunities to reach back into our communities and show them where and how to seek the help they need, when they need it. 

So, I thank you again for your unwavering dedication and commitment to our Defense community. 

And please join me now in applauding the Suicide Prevention Recognition recipients.