Mental health emergency at USMMA

All,
Billy Jackson here again. I signed up for the MLAA newsletter and I suppose that’s why I was Bcc’d on this recent email about the Mental Health Crisis that is occurring at the USMMA. It sounds like it’s a very serious situation for which the KP administration has no answers. Two days after this email was sent the Superintendent cancelled Friday classes and turned the Friday into a “Wellness Day” with a cover band, posted a video on facebook of himself looking very much in control, and then declared victory. He also convened all hands meetings in Ackerman in which he warned that if any more leaks occurred to outsiders he would be forced to close down the school and delay graduation. Here’s the email:

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Maritime Legal Aid & Advocacy maritimelegalaid@gmail.com
Date: Wed, Aug 19, 2020 at 1:54 PM
Subject: The Midshipmen Have Started Hanging Themselves
To: Buono, RADM Joachim
Cc: Buzby, Mark (MARAD) , Kreitzer, Ilene, Goodwin, Samantha, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator Chuck Schumer

Jack,

Last week a midshipman hanged him/herself in his/her room in the barracks.

Did you hear about that?

I heard about it because he/she survived (barely) and a few days later made a post on social media about it, which I have seen. And I have also seen many social media posts of other midshipmen offering support and compassion to this person, which was really beautiful.

I have been independently contacted by multiple midshipmen regarding the mental health emergency that currently exists at the USMMA. Several have asked me to speak out about this issue. Apparently some Kings Point midshipmen are under the impression that your administration listens to what I say.

Most disturbingly, in recent days one midshipman contacted me and told me that he/she is contemplating suicide every day and that the conditions at the USMMA were unbearable. I wish I could have directed that person to someone at the USMMA, but I have zero confidence that anyone at the USMMA would handle the situation properly.

Based on the emails I have received and the social media posts I have seen, morale at KP is at an all time low. Upperclassmen are describing this moment as a “mental health emergency” or a “mental health crisis,” and everyone says they feel like they are living in a prison.

Due to your draconian lockdown and isolation policies, people are starting to crack. Already. And it’s still August.

Upperclassmen returned to campus around July 26 and have been prevented from leaving the campus for any reason since then.

Midshipmen have missed weddings of close family members and funerals because leaving the campus means taking a setback–at a minimum.

This attempted suicide by hanging on the USMMA campus occurred some time around August 12, 2020, per my sources inside Vickery Gates.

Per multiple sources who wish to remain anonymous, on June 3, 2020 (more than 2 months before the attempted suicide) a midshipman at the USMMA sent an email to a Company Officer (a MARAD employee and your employee) in which the midshipman wrote the following:

Subject: Mental Health of the Midshipmen Upon Return.

Good Morning,

I read through the Superintendent’s Notice sent out regarding the regulations for the midshipmen returning to campus in the latter part of the trimester. I wanted to bring an issue up my chain of command regarding the tragic events that took place at the Air Force Academy. I fear the same, or similar events may take place at Kings Point. The AFA had their seniors stay on campus to finish the semester and graduate, but placed very strict rules on them regarding social distancing and quarantine (i.e. restricted liberty, and enhanced isolation policies). These rules are very similar to those mentioned in the Superintendent’s Notice. Within one week of the new rules at the AFA, two cadets committed suicide.

Jack, please see this article from the USA Today:

The headline reads, “Two senior cadets, among 1,000 seniors isolated at the Air Force Academy, died by suicide within days.”

The tragic suicides within days of each other at the USAFA and the USMMA student’s subsequent email to you were clear warnings of what would happen if you brought students back to school and implemented draconian lockdown and isolation measures. You should not be surprised that a midshipman has already attempted to take his/her own life.

In the June 3, 2020 email from a USMMA student that notified you of the suicides at the USAFA and warned you that your announced policies would result in suicides at the USMMA, the student also wrote the following:

I believe proceeding with the current regulations (or a close adaptation of them) into the next trimester will have a large, extremely negative impact on midshipmen. The primary concerns are: not allowing midshipmen into each other’s rooms, restricting liberty, and restricting the use of athletic facilities/equipment. Taking away the ability to socialize/study with friends in each other’s rooms will undoubtedly affect the mental health and academic performance of midshipmen, as this is the foundation for student’s success.

Restricting the use of athletic equipment/facilities will also have a negative effect on the midshipmen as exercise reduces anxiety, stress, and depression. I am sending this email to ensure that these concerns felt by many midshipmen have been brought to light as the future midshipman regulations of Kings Point are planned. I pray that nobody will take their life, self harm, or mentally struggle further upon returning to school, and that the events of the Air Force Academy will NOT be repeated before the mental health of the midshipmen is treated as a top priority. I appreciate the hard work that everyone is putting in to help midshipmen return to campus, and continue to operate as normally as possible. I also applaud the incredible job the USMMA staff has done to keep the academy operating while adapting to the challenges presented by COVID-19. Attached is an article highlighting the tragic events at the Air Force Academy for further explanation and study.

My understanding is that your response to the attempted suicide by hanging has so far been to order that all students attend a mental health training. This is the classic Kings Point response to tragedy and horror. The basic idea is that the administration must take CYA (cover your ass) measures, but admit no wrongdoing, take no time for self-examination, do nothing to address the underlying causes of this mental health emergency, and hope that the story goes away without generating any bad press for the school.

If another student hangs him/herself, you just do the same thing again.

On Facebook one USMMA student wrote the following regarding your response to the hanging:

The Administration has responded with a half-assed reg training, put together last minute, to make us all feel guilty about what happened and to cover their asses if something like this were to happen again. They could have instead taken accountability for how crappy life is right now and said they are trying to change it. That reg training was a pretty big smack in the face. I haven’t heard a single thing from any commissioned officer about what the plan is other than something along the lines of “just deal with it and maybe they’ll back off.” I want someone in Wiley Hall to tell us what’s actually going on here, not for them to continue using midshipman as puppets.

Everyone sees what’s going on, Jack.

Kings Point is designed to stress or destroy the mental health of students. This is the basic idea of the regimental system: “Life is hard here and some people can hack it and some people can’t.”

“Great place to be from, horrible place to be, etc. etc.”

Kings Point has never been a school that has cared about the mental health of its students. And now, instead of relaxing regimental standards, it seems that you are ratcheting all of the regimental insanity up to a higher volume.

The “Plebe Standards” for this school year were announced in an email on July 25, 2020. These are your policies, Jack. You are responsible for everything that happens at Kings Point, and you are directly and 100% responsible for these Plebe Standards. The email announcing these policies stated:

Good afternoon all,

Plebes candidates will observe these standards all year starting 25JUL2020. In addition, it is essential that all Midshipmen do their best to hold the plebe class to their standards. The following is a list of hard-points that I would like everyone to focus on.

-Plebes WILL NOT talk in the p-ways, outside, or on zero-deck

-Plebes will execute a motivated shuffle outside while the flag is up.

-Plebes WILL NOT wear their backpacks at any time, for any reason. They will keep their backpacks in their left hands when motivated shuffling/walking

-Plebes will always walk 6 inches from the bulkhead while indoors, and move 6 inches from the curb of the road when outdoors.

-Plebes WILL NOT use sidewalks.

-Plebes WILL NOT use the oval in front of Wiley Hall for any reason during plebe year

-Plebes will have their doors open from 0600-2200 daily.

-Plebes will square every corner, sounding off with “SNAP POP” each time.

-Plebe will only wear the UOD as specified for that day.

- Plebes will abide by social distancing practices and mask-wearing policies at all times.

-Plebes will greet ALL upperclassmen and salute all 1st Classmen.

-Plebes will complete cleaning stations every morning.

-Plebes WILL NOT consume alcohol at any time during plebe year, even if over the age of 21.

-Plebes WILL NOT use electronic cigarettes, Juuls, or any other type of nicotine delivery system at any time on campus.

-Plebes will not be allowed to use tobacco at any time on campus.

-Plebes WILL NOT engage in fraternization or relationships with upperclassmen as per the Midshipmen Regulations 3.6.1-3, 4.A-B9.

-Plebes will wear their TWIC cards ID cards on their belt on their left side, or on the same side when in PT gear. ID cards will be worn at all times.

-Plebes will only use the NEX while in the UOD.

-Plebes WILL NOT use the Seafarer.

-Plebes will stay within hair rates as prescribed by the RTOA.

-While waiting for musters, plebes will stand at the position of attention and WILL NOT be talking.

-Plebes WILL NOT listen to music or watch non-educational videos until given media privileges.

-Plebes WILL NOT have their phones until further notice.

Jack, it does not seem that you took the mental health of USMMA freshman students into consideration when you drafted these policies and used students to promulgate and implement your policies. Policies that deprive young people who are living in isolation of the ability to listen to music or to watch non-educational videos do not seem like policies designed to support their mental health. Quite the contrary.

And you have ordered all upperclassmen to help enforce these hazing policies. Upperclassmen who are angry, frustrated, isolated, and looking for an outlet where they can discharge these emotions.

It sounds like you are trying to create a Lord of the Flies situation at KP, Jack.

Yesterday a 1st Classman described life at KP as this:

There has been one Pub Night since the midshipmen have returned and that was last weekend. Liberty is restricted for all classes and we cannot so much as even go on an off campus run or go to the senior lot to get something out of our cars. The only way you can eat with a group is if you are outside in the scorching sun, otherwise you have to eat in your room by yourself, or with a roommate if you have one. Plebes are not making friends with each other. Most of my classmates I looked forward to seeing upon return to senior year I have not so much as seen on campus. Everyday, while standing in line for Delano, there are people I haven’t seen in years. We are not permitted to talk in the barracks at all during the hours of 0730 to 1645 every day, additionally since we cannot go into one another’s rooms, we can only interact with other people in line at Delano. You have to send messages over your computer to get your classmate to walk to get lunch with you. There is almost no way for the Plebes to interact with each other at all since they cannot talk in Delano or their rooms, but can only talk when standing at the POA outside of a shipmates door for official business only. As I said before, the company and regimental staff, seniors, are PTing the living crap out of the Plebes and they are being tremendously abused and harassed.

Nice job, Jack. Sounds like you’ve turned the place into a real hellhole. It’s not surprising that this was your plan given that last year you attempted to ban parents from hugging their children on the USMMA campus and attempted to ban Parents’ Associations from bringing cookies to the midshipman once a week.

If a Plebe takes his or her own life, if any midshipman takes his or her own life during this pandemic, that blood will be on your hands, Jack.

And that’s all I have to say to you.

The rest of this email is my advice to any current USMMA midshipmen who might receive this message in their inbox—-

  1. If you are thinking about killing yourself, don’t do it, because you will regret it. You won’t know you regretted it of course, because you’ll be dead. But I know you will regret it because I have been to the dark places (including while I was at KP) and I have gone through periods of my life where I thought death 100 times a day and thought about suicide and I thought that I did want to die (including at KP). And then later I have looked back at all of the rich experiences and personal growth that happened after I was able to move through those troughs and been so thankful that I was still alive. And that’s how I know you will regret killing yourself. So don’t do it.

  2. Kings Point makes you feel like you are trapped. But you’re not trapped. You can always walk right out of Vickery Gate. If you’re at the point where you just can’t take it anymore, walk out. Go home. Don’t even tell anyone, just leave. When you get home go to a psychiatrist and have him/her tell KP you have to take a year off. If Jack Buono tries to fuck you over because you were close to suicide and needed to get out of KP for a year to regain your mental health, email me and I will help you put Jack Buono in his place. During that year just focus on your mental health and decide if you want to go back to KP or not. You might not want to go back, and that’s fine. You can do anything you want with your life. You can always reinvent yourself and you do not have to live by other people’s standards of success or failure. The farther I move away in time from my Kings Point experience, the more insane and harmful it appears to me and to most of the great friends that I made there. KP is not real life. There is so much more out there beyond Vickery Gate, so don’t off yourself before you get the chance to experience the world and the chance to find out who you really are and what you are capable of doing with your one and only life.

  3. If you feel like you can’t leave but you are really struggling, I encourage you to seek therapy online. Talkspace is a service that allows you to speak with a licensed therapist online: talkspace dot com

And there are others. You can do this without Jack Buono ever finding out about it.

  1. If you are really depressed you might want to consider taking a mood stabilizing drug. I was against taking any kind of mood stabilizing drug for most of my life, but about a year and a half ago I was going through a really difficult time and I started taking Wellbutrin XL 150mg twice per day and it helped me tremendously with very few if any side effects. When I moved through that phase, I was able to stop taking it.

Obviously this is only my personal experience, and you have to speak with a doctor, but if you are just completely miserable you probably don’t have much to lose by trying something like this. You’ll know within 2 weeks if it’s helping or not, and it could save your life.

There are online services where you can speak with a doctor about depression and obtain drugs discreetly through the mail without Jack Buono ever knowing about it. One of those services is Alpha [helloalpha dot com]

If you are in a desperate place, you have to consider taking some drastic measures to save yourself.

My final message is this: do not rely on KP to save you, because they won’t save you. They are doing everything they can right now to destroy your mental health, and the administration is so lacking in self-awareness that they don’t even fully realize this, and they are so lacking in compassion that they do not care.

You have to save yourselves and take care of your shipmates.

Write to your parents, write to your congresspersons, especially the New York Senators. Make a lot of noise on social media and elsewhere.

The answer is not to sit back and wait for this administration to do the right thing. That will never happen without outside pressure.

This is a real emergency situation, it is unprecedented, lives are at stake, and the regiment must take matters into its own hands.

Acta Non Verba,

Maritime Legal Aid & Advocacy

This data from the CDC is horrifying:

In a new C.D.C. survey, 18- to 24-year-olds reported the highest levels of symptoms of anxiety and depression, and a quarter of them said they had seriously considered suicide.

Add the stress and pressures of a place like KP and you have a dangerous situation…

But according to Buono it’s just a “morale” issue, and he’s solved the problem.

He cannot says the words “mental health”

Does anybody think this guys emails actually get read? You can’t write a a hundred 25 page emails and hope to create change…

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@New3M

Apparently the email went viral and led to the “Wellness Day.”

The KP Administration was planning to cover up the hanging…as usual…

@New3M

I actually saw the Titan Uranus around Singapore a few years ago…

Buono has been the best thing for USMMA since Admiral Greene . I can’t or won’t debate the ability for the academy to screen highly qualified candidates for underlying mental health issues. The environment is tough at all the academys for a reason, but no reason to do something stupid to cope with whatever problem existed within that persons mind well before they arrived on campus.

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I am sorry to admit part of me wants to say…What a bunch of Snowflakes.

Yep…That’s when they found out there are no more participation trophies…

Who is Admiral Greene?

To be the best thing since someone who had no impact on the school and got himself quickly fired is not something I would personally want to be.

I’d like to aim a little higher!

Buono is known as “The Absentee Landlord.”

He loves all the trappings of power and office, but is not engaged and has little intellectual curiosity, which is a quality useful in the president of a college—especially a president of a college who has zero experience as an educator or educational executive.

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Snowflakes? Because they are struggling with depression during a pandemic after being out on a ship for 5 months without being able to ever go ashore and then sent to what is essentially a prison where they are on lockdown, doing classes in their rooms and not allowed to leave or visit friends in other rooms or even eat together? huh?

An average of 20 military vets die from suicide every day. Are they also snowflakes?

The lack of compassion … it’s sad.

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Was at a high school football game sitting near a father who’s son had made it to the next level. Asked him if his boy was starting. He humbly replied with what his son told him. “I was good, but when you get to college, everybody is good”. That is something every athlete will experience going to the next level no matter what division he or she plays for. At least 75% of USMMA cadets are/were good athletes in their respective sports in high school and standouts in that sport. Not being top dog anymore and having to work for it is a whole different animal.

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Huh?

What?

Aren’t we talking about suicide and depression and mental health struggles at sea and at a military academy during a global pandemic?

I contributed regarding some pressures at the academies. You seemed to attack leadership at said academies. Greene was ousted by a shit Marad system at the time because he had forward leading ideas which differed from the Marad view at the time. The Mids loved him and his support. Buono is very active in the support of the mids. In between Greene and Buono was Hellis, who disrupted anything traditional he could and was a general pain in the ass for the Alumni and supporting sponsors. Although ironically, many of Greene’s complaints were answered by Marad well after his departure. I don’t know where you get your info from and the credibility of it, But certainly disagree with your take on it. Suicide is a horrible answer to ending ones problems. What personal axe do you have to grind?

You mean like working on a tanker?

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Just out of curiousity, what would you say that reason is? Coming from outside of the academy environment, the whole thing seems bizarre. Of all the stories I’ve ever heard from the academies, only the bad food and a bit of the sleep deprivation seemed to be directly related to work.

The academies are ostensibly training cadets to be competent 3rd A/Es and 3rd Mates. I dunno about you, but my time as a 3rd didn’t involve marching, uniforms, PT, or any of the other quasi-military window dressing. I’d trade all of that for giving the kids one more class on how to use tools.

I’ve often wished that I’d had the chance to get the maritime-specific education or connections that the academies provide. But I’ve never wished for any part of the rest of the academy experience.

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Not intentionally taking away the gravity of the situation at USMMA & the loss of this young life but wondering if anyone knows if the suicide rate is higher at maritime academies compared to other universities? In the last year I’ve read about 2 young TV weather forecasters killing themselves. Early during this pandemic suicides over Covid19 out numbered the actual deaths from Covid19 by double digits in my county. There’s always a few suicides at the state university in my hometown every year. I don’t necessarily blame the dean, the university or whatever crisis being pushed on us by the media.

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Nor do I . The vetting process for acceptance to any college cannot determine one’s mentai capabilities, they go by various test scores and background checks. Person comes up clean, with decent grades, they are considered for entry. How would they know what an individuals mental risk factor is? I think blaming the administration Presidents or Deans is way off base. Media reports on what sells, not so much the entire picture.

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We need to protect them. Close Kings Point … finally, for good and for the safety of delicate children.

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