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Deputy Secretary Of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks Remarks at the Suicide Prevention Recognition Ceremony

DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE KATHLEEN HICKS:  Thank you very much, Under Secretary Cisneros, and good morning to everyone, and a special thanks to our distinguished guests here who have joined, as well.

I want to begin just by thanking everyone who's taking time to be here today.  The department can and must do more to end any deaths by suicide.  We have much more work to do to prevent these tragedies.  Secretary Austin and I are personally focused on it, along with President Biden, members of Congress, military and veteran service organizations, the mental healthcare community and many others.

And we're here today to focus on prevention and how everyday heroes are making a difference in suicide prevention across the department.  It's a core part of our everlasting commitment to taking care of our people across the total force, our service members, family members, civilians and contractors.  It's a core part -- excuse me -- after all, mental health is health, and we're deeply committed to making sure our entire community is healthy and well.

I know for many people, suicide prevention is personal and emotional.  In fact, it's personal for too many people because every one death by suicide is too many.

The truth is, suicide prevention must be personal for all of us.  It's a challenge we all must take personal responsibility for, because even as we know suicide is a complex problem with no single cause, no single solution, there are lots of things that all of us can do and must do to promote connectiveness and belonging in community, to reduce and eliminate stigma and to ensure everyone knows where to get support, for example, by dialing 988 and pressing "1" or texting 838255, which you can do 24/7, any day of the year to get free confidential support and crisis intervention.

And by the way, the resources exist not only for people who might be in crisis or feeling stress, anxious or isolated or who know someone who is, it's also a resource for survivors and for anyone who knows someone who died by suicide.

The units and installations that we are recognizing today have been exemplary in their promotion of suicide prevention awareness, and not only by doing so to prevent suicide, but also to minimize the stigmas (sic) associated with suicide and reaching out for support.  They've helped people understand how to ask for help.  They've helped others learn how to listen, and they've spread the word in some remarkably creative ways, including at the height of pandemic restrictions in order to reach people where they.  For example, they organized social media outreach campaigns, photo and video scavenger hunts, school events, bingo and trivia nights, teambuilding retreats, targeted, evidence-based skills training, podcasts, posters, emails, sidewalk chalk messages and more.

Now, while we want to see many more activities like these across our bases and -- and installations, I should note that they aren't the only ways to make a difference.  We need people to be leaders at every level, because even the smallest gestures matter like saying hello when you pass someone in the hallway, or asking a colleague how they're doing or checking in with a friend that you haven't talked to in a while, or backing up a teammate so they can get the care and support they need.

And while September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and this week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and Saturday is World Suicide Prevention Day, we cannot let this work be confined to a single day, week or month.  We have to be working hard to prevent suicide every month, every week, every day.

That's partly why each of these units and installations are being recognized today, because they've worked to make sure that suicide prevention is a comprehensive part of their activities winter, spring, summer or fall.  It's also why some of the department's senior-most leaders come together regularly, including through the Deputy's Workforce Council to take stock of how we're doing and identify ways to drive more progress.  For example, we're removing stigmatizing language that might filter down throughout the force.  We're evaluating our operational standards, requirements, screenings, clearance processes and access determinations to make sure they don't perpetuate stigmas (sic) around suicide and mental health, and to make sure we're removing barriers to care that might implicitly prevent people from seeking help.

We're recruiting a dedicated Violence Prevention Workforce, with great thanks to Under Secretary Cisneros, which will station 2,000 personnel at DOD installations around the world to help drive down common risk factors and help commanders build healthy climates that support our workforce.  And Secretary Austin has stood up the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee, which will identify comprehensive ways we can continue to improve as a department.  We look forward to receiving their findings and recommendations in the coming months.

I want to close where I began, with gratitude and not just for those of you here today, but for everyone across the entire Department of Defense who works toward preventing suicide every day.  I know it isn't easy.  We have a lot of hard jobs here at DOD, but there is a unique mental and emotional burden that comes with thinking about suicide prevention every day.  It's hard.  And so I want you to make sure that you're taking care of yourselves too, and each other.

The secretary and I are so grateful for what you do.  It couldn't be more important, so thank you, and thank you especially to the installations and their leaders that we recognize today.