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'Connect to Protect’ during Suicide Prevention Month

  • Published
  • By Steven Mayfield
  • JBSA-Lackland Violence Prevention Integrator

September is Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month and this year’s theme is “Connect to Protect.” 

During this month, and throughout the year, it is important to take the time to reach out to connect with and protect our Wingmen who may be in need or experiencing “life circumstances” that may be causing them a level of distress. With the current operational posture relating to COVID-19, these “connection” efforts become vitally important.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there is an average of 123 suicides each day in the United States and suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America. More alarming is the fact that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for persons ages 25-34, and the third-leading cause for youth ages 15-24. 

If we look at those numbers through “an Air Force prism,” it indicates exactly what we are seeing in the service … suicide is primarily impacting our young Airmen.

However, there are also suicidal instances involving Airmen (active duty, Reserve, Guard and civilians) who are above the age of 35. The phenomenon of suicide is non-discriminatory with respect to age, as well as other identity-related categories.

When an unfortunate suicide event occurs, it may have wide-ranging effects on the health of others, particularly in a military unit environment where camaraderie and “team spirit” foster strong and binding ties. 

Families, acquaintances, friends, and Wingmen typically experience myriad emotions associated with the unfortunate event, such as shock, anger, disappointment, guilt, and depression. This is where the resiliency skills we’ve learned along the way help in coping with unfortunate situations/circumstances – such as a suicide or suicide attempt – that we may experience.

All of us are encouraged to remember and emphasize the important role of establishing “solid connections” and how those connections play a significant role in preventing suicides across the Air Force, and in our society as a whole. 

We all should be encouraged and motivated to “check our connections” to our families, friends, co-workers, and the [15th Air Force] community.  Additionally, we should ensure we are “connected” to sources of prevention information, suicide prevention resources, medical treatment facilities, and other local/national support organizations.

Although suicide is a serious public health problem, it is preventable. Suicide is a tragic end to a life, a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

If you personally become aware of a teammate/Wingman who is experiencing “negative life circumstances” and you feel they may be considering harming themselves, here are tips to ensure their safety:

  1. Ask direct questions. Even though it may be hard to do, ask a person directly if they’re thinking about suicide.
  2. Listen to their answers and be a good Wingman.  People with suicidal thoughts often feel alone, so be sure to let them know that you care deeply about what they have to say.  Persons who are having suicidal ideations may feel as though no one is listening.
  3. Initiate a “safety check.”  If you're truly concerned for a Wingman’s well-being, try to remove anything they could use to harm themselves, such as alcohol, drugs, medications, weapons, and even access to a car. Further discussions/actions can now take place within a “safe environment”.
  4. Share what you know (or learn) about the situation. Let your Wingman know that you will help them formulate a plan that includes involving a professional who can assist and help them access the many services/helping resources. DO NOT agree to “keep this a secret”!
  5. Ensure they access professional help. Remember the ACE (Ask, Care and Escort) model. At this stage, it is important to “escort” your Wingman to the helping resource.

During this month and every month, educate yourselves in the ways you can identify those who are at risk for suicide and then get involved. Every life is a precious gift and every Airman is a valuable contributor. As Wingmen, we must connect to protect.  

In addition to local resources, persons with concerns can contact the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, then press 1, or access an online chat by texting 838255.

Connect to protect … your Wingman and Battle Buddy is depending on you.

[Check with your local installations for events happening in your communities.]

(This article was edited by 15th Air Force Public Affairs for locality.)