11 Elements of the Air Force Suicide Prevention Program:
The AF suicide prevention program is built on 11 overlapping core elements that emphasize leadership and community involvement in suicide prevention.
- Leadership Involvement: FA leaders actively support all suicide prevention initiatives in the community.
- Addressing Suicide Prevention through Professional Military Education: PME provides periodic, targeted suicide prevention training for Airmen and Guardsmen, specifically geared to the individual’s rank and level of responsibility.
- Guidelines for Commanders: Use of Mental Health Services: Commanders receive training on how and when to use mental health services and guidance on their role in encouraging early help-seeking behavior .
- Unit-based preventive services: Professionals from aid agencies partner with unit leaders to provide services in the workplace to increase access, encourage help-seeking and promote familiarity, relationships and trust with the force and families.
- Wingman Culture: Wingmen model healthy behaviors, make responsible choices, and encourage others to do the same. Wingers foster a culture of seeking help early. Wingmen recognize risk factors and warning signs of distress in themselves and others and take protective action.
- Investigative Interview Policy: After any investigative interview, the investigator is required to “hand over” the individual directly to the Commanding Officer, First Sergeant or Supervisor. The unit representative is then responsible for assessing the emotional state of the individual and contacting a mental health provider if in doubt about the possibility of suicide.
- Post-suicide response (postvention): Suicide has an impact on co-workers, families and friends. Offering support early is associated with increased help-seeking behavior.
- Community Action Board (CAB) and Community Action Team (CAT): At the air and space forces, MAJCOM, and base levels, the CAB and CAT provide a forum for cross-agency consideration and resolution of issues individual, family, facility, and community issues that impact force readiness and quality of life.
- Limited Privilege Suicide Prevention Program: Patients facing legal action who are at risk of suicide are granted increased confidentiality when seen by mental health care providers.
- Commander Consultation Assessment Tool: Commanders use a variety of assessments (e.g., Unit Climate Assessment, Air Force Community Assessment Survey, Airman Comprehensive Assessment) recommended by appropriate agencies, to better understand unit strengths and areas of vulnerability.
- Suicidal Event Tracking and Analysis: Information on all FA suicides and attempted suicides is entered into a central database, currently the Department of Defense Suicidal Event Report (DoDSER), to identify suicide risk factors and trends.
The warning signs of suicide are different from the risk factors. They are more observable and must be addressed immediately. A common theme for warning signs is change. That’s why friends, relatives and co-workers are key to spotting early warning signs of distress.
Many people at risk of suicide experience mood changes such as hopelessness, depression, or anxiety. Other emotional and behavioral changes include restlessness, anger, or irritability.
Changes in daily activities, for example changes in appetite or sleep, can be warning signs. These can include eating or sleeping much more or less than usual. Unusual or sudden changes in behavior, isolation, withdrawal, loss of interest in work, or change in job performance are also warning signs. Even a positive mood change can be a warning sign if someone has been depressed for a while. It is important to ask questions about the reasons for the change.
And, finally, a very important warning sign is to talk or communicate about death or suicide. All Airmen must be alert to these behaviors in others and be prepared to intervene.
The behaviors listed below may be signs that someone is thinking about suicide.
- Talk about wanting to die or wanting to commit suicide
- Talk about feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, or having no reason to live
- Make a plan or find a way to commit suicide, such as researching online, stocking up on pills, or buying a gun
- Talking about great guilt or shame
- Talking about feeling trapped or feeling there are no solutions
- Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)
- Talk about being a burden to others
- Using alcohol or drugs more often
- Acting anxious or restless
- Withdraw from family and friends
- Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
- Showing rage or talking about wanting revenge
- Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
- Talking or thinking about death often
- Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly going from very sad to very calm or happy
- Donate important goods
- Say goodbye to friends and family
- Putting order, making a will
If these warning signs apply to you or someone you know, get help as soon as possible, especially if the behavior is new or has increased recently. One resource is the VETERANS/MILITARY CRISIS LINE, 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The crisis line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. People who are deaf and hard of hearing can contact the crisis line through TTY at 1-800-799-4889.