Austin calls on service members to stop stigmatizing mental health help

Austin calls on service members to stop stigmatizing mental health help
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a press conference at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Alaska is the first stop in a seven-day trip that includes Singapore, Hanoi, Vietnam, Manila and the Philippines. Photo credit Chad McNeeley/DoD

After a briefing from leaders about the spike in suicides among service members in Alaska, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said today he's concerned about the number of suicides there and across the force.

"I'm deeply concerned about the suicide rates, not only here but across the force," he said during a press conference at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. "One loss by suicide is too many. While we're working hard on this problem, we have a lot more to do."

Addressing the problem must start with reducing the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health issues, he said. "Mental health is health, period," Austin said.

The secretary said the Defense Department must approach the suicide issue with the same energy applied to any other health issue. Getting help to those suffering from mental health issues must be done with compassion and professionalism, not stigma, he said.

"So, if you're hurting, there are resources available," Austin said. "And I know that our leaders here are committed to making those resources even more accessible and available."

From Day 1 in his tenure at the helm of the DOD, Austin has said that his first priority is to defend the nation. "But key to achieving it is taking care of our people," he said. "One of my messages to the men and women that I spoke with today is we need to look out for one another, and I promised I would be looking out after them."