Semper Fidelis, or the more well-known shortened version, Semper Fi, latin for “always faithful”, is a well-known and well-used phrase usually directed towards the Marine Corps, but applicable to all those who serve.
While especially meaningful to anyone who has worn the eagle, globe, and anchor, in regards to the mental health of former Marines and all veterans, what does it really mean? Have we lived up to its calling?
This just released article suggests otherwise. The headline goes to the heart of our military’s response to mental health issues such as suicide and PTSD. It begs the question, have we learned anything?
“As Military confronts the issue”
Really, can we believe anymore that they are capable of doing that? What were they doing 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 50 years ago, etc.? The military and our American culture still doesn’t really understand suicide. It is a moral, spiritual, and mental health problem that needs to be confronted proactively. One of my heroes, Viktor Frankl, said that suffering without meaning leads to despair, and at its worst can leave someone hopeless and suicidal. Opinions like that of the Marine Commandant quoted in the article, “it’s a long-term solution to a short-term problem” diminish the suffering, show incomplete understanding, and just contributes to the attitude of “suck it up, you’ll make it through this.” Maybe well-intentioned, definitely misspoken.
We need to be more engaged with one another throughout life. People who believe they have a future worth living don’t usually kill themselves. Suicide makes one myopic and you focus on the acute effects of your pain and suffering. Usually, to you, it has been a LONG-TERM problem, or one you see continuing long-term, that you haven’t found an answer for and you begin to believe your only way out is suicide. It develops, and we need to help people long before it metastasizes into a final solution. Read this recent article with a tragic but common example of how suicide develops and the means to commit suicide develops. The seeds of this young woman’s suicide were planted over a decade or more before she took her life: https://www.foxnews.com/us/new-york-dietitian-27-hangs-herself-after-posting-suicide-note
The Marine Commandant should have said, “Suicide is a long-term solution to a long-term problem that leaves people feeling hopeless. We want to provide Marines who are suffering direction and hope that they can find other solutions that enable life and continued meaning. And we want to build a culture in our Marine Corps that clearly shows mental fitness is like physical fitness and all Marines should encourage each other in building mental resiliency as devoutly as they do physical resiliency.”
The only way suicide rates will drop is if we develop relationships with each other that allow us the means to help one-another overcome the seasons of life where suffering can outpace meaning and despair leads us to the tools of demons. It’s a whole other article, but how well do you know your co-workers? When is the last time you checked in on an old friend? How often do you have deep conversations with your children? Do you visit prisons, have you considered foster care, do you reach out to homeless veterans, do you help local veterans in your community come home? Do you mentor at-risk teenagers? I could go on. The problem is us, and we must be more proactive toward one another.
Give someone a reason to live, a relationship to keep it going when the darkness comes, and an understanding that we all struggle with similar issues although we might have different solutions, and maybe one day these numbers will go down. Until then, I’ll keep spreading the word and keep hoping that “Semper Fi” means more than a just a phrase to hoot and holler too.