WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — Suicide prevention is the responsibility of all Airmen and Guardians. Not only is suicide a major public and mental health issue, but members of the military community are considered a high-risk group.
The community finances, lost work, quality of life, statistical value of life, and medical cost of suicide were estimated at around $490 billion in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The toll of suicide in our military communities, our families, our friends, our colleagues and our medical professionals is overwhelming.
As Airmen and Guardians, we need to understand how important it is to intervene when needed, especially in the early stages before a crisis develops. This means first recognizing the warning signs. These signs include sudden changes in sleep, appearance, job performance, mood, attitude and behavior.
Front-line supervisors, family members and co-workers are usually the first people to notice changes due to day-to-day interactions. We need to confront and determine what caused the change and help modify or remove the beliefs that triggered the suicidal behaviors, while providing assistance and referral to the appropriate agencies.
If someone indicates their intent and has a plan, seek help immediately and be sure to follow up with the Airman. Remember ACE – request, heal and escort. We also need to take a proactive approach to wellness by focusing on reducing risk factors, while strengthening the protective measures most closely related to the problems.
Risk factors include stress, depression, people with a mental health diagnosis or currently seeking treatment, history of attempts, toxic and hostile work environments, discriminatory or harassing behavior, financial and legal issues , divorce or break-up, death of a loved one or comrade, and alcohol and drug abuse. Individual protective or coping factors that can circumvent the likelihood of negative impact are connectedness, cohesion and engagement, self-care; supportive leadership, family and peers; work-life balance, high morale and open communication about challenges you may face.
Self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, and social awareness are integral to suicide prevention because it begins with ourselves. Strategically, we must create supportive environments that promote the health and well-being of our Airmen and Guardians and reduce barriers to help-seeking, no matter how severe.
Leaders, supervisors, and wingmen at all levels are strongly encouraged to continue to leverage your Master Resilience Trainers, Resilience Training Assistants, and assisting agencies such as Chaplain, Mental Health, L violence prevention integrator, military family life consultants, first sergeants, alcohol and drug abuse. Treatment Program, Family Advocacy, Military OneSource, Airman & Family Readiness Center, Civilian Health Promotion Services, Community Support Coordinators, and Employee Assistance Program.
America depends on you to fly, fight and win. Each of you is vital to your family, the Air Force community, and the success of our mission.
What do you do to take care of yourself and others — how do you prevent suicide?