EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska —
Suicide remains the leading cause of death in the Air Force. In 70% of total forced suicides, personal firearms were the means most often used. To curb this trend, the Department of the Air Force initiated a time-based approach to suicide prevention.
TBP is an intentional approach to mitigating suicide by focusing primarily on the “how” rather than the “why”. It takes advantage of time, space, and distance from lethal means to allow the moment of heightened distress and associated impulsive responses to dissipate.
In April 2020, Kathy Foley, a violence prevention integrator and suicide prevention program manager for the 354th Fighter Wing, approached Eielson to lead the DAF’s TBP initiative. The program has been highly successful with more than 2,700 multi-purpose locks spread on base from 2020 to 2021 and no reported cases of suicide last year.
“My job is to do whatever I can to stop the violence from happening,” Foley said. “I want to empower every Airman to know how to mitigate someone who is in distress or who is expressing suicidal thoughts. Knowing how to handle these situations, being able to have these uncomfortable and often harsh conversations is the goal and prevents violence.
According to research, one in four suicides occur within five minutes of an individual making a decision. With firearms, about 90% of these attempts are fatal. Therefore, delaying and limiting access between a person at risk of suicide and a lethal means gives them time to reconsider and possibly prevent an attempt.
TBA’s efforts do not limit or prohibit an individual’s ability to legally own or use firearms. Its Lethal Means Safety approach includes, but is not limited to, the safe storage of firearms, medications, and poisons that can be used in the event of an overdose; build barriers to jump from deadly heights; and remove objects that can be used for strangulation.
Part of the initiative is the “Go SLO” campaign which represents three recommended options for storing lethal means: in safes, with locks or outside the home. The campaign aims to encourage Airmen, caretakers and their families to exercise safe storage to prevent intentional and unintentional injuries by lethal means.
In an effort to raise awareness of suicide prevention on base, Foley and his team continuously distribute a variety of helpful materials such as magnets with resources individuals can reach and “Ask, Treat, Escort” or ACE cards. containing questions to ask and instructions to follow to help someone contemplating suicide.
“Knowing what your resources are and having a game plan before someone comes to you with suicidal thoughts is the best-case scenario,” Foley said. “That way, if you’re ever faced with a tough situation, you already have a plan of action, one you’re comfortable with and can save a life.
For more information, visit the Airman Resilience Center in Building 2223 or call 377-2130.