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September is Suicide Prevention Month

Within the Air Force, first-term Airmen grades E1-E4 are at highest risk for suicide. Common stressors that may lead to suicidal thoughts include relationship, financial or job problems. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Destinee Sweeney)

Within the Air Force, first-term Airmen grades E1-E4 are at highest risk for suicide. Common stressors that may lead to suicidal thoughts include relationship, financial or job problems. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Destinee Sweeney)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --

Approximately 42,000 Americans commit suicide annually, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, in which the Defense Department and other organizations are raising awareness to help those in need.

Currently the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., suicide can affect anyone in the community.

“Suicide prevention is really a community effort, not something that can be accomplished by one provider or clinic alone,” said Capt. Tiffany Brakefield, 20th Medical Operations Squadron staff clinical psychologist.

Although there are no universal symptoms, some warning signs of suicidal ideation may include withdrawal from activities, appearing depressed and changes in sleep or appetite.

When friends, family and peers notice changes and choose to help, the results can be lifesaving.

“If you suspect someone you know is suicidal utilize the A.C.E model,” said Brakefield. “'Ask' directly about thoughts of self-harm or suicide, 'Care', actively listen and remove any means that could be used for self-harm, and 'Escort', accompany your wingman to a member of your chain of command or to a professional.”

The stigma associated with suicide, suicidal thoughts and mental illness may often be attributed as to why individuals do not receive help.

“Many active-duty members are afraid talking to someone will negatively impact their career,” Brakefield said. “However, for the majority of mental health patients, chain of command is not typically contacted and no changes in duty status are needed, especially when someone comes for help early on.”

There are various ways to receive help for thoughts of suicide such as contacting the Behavioral Health Optimization Program clinic, mental health clinic or chaplain services.

“We’re 100 percent confidential and non-judgmental,” said Capt. James Finley, 20th Fighter Wing chaplain. “Our Religious Support Teams are here to care for you; 24/7 there’s a chaplain on call.”

In addition to the chaplain corps, other services include Military OneSource, the military family life consultant, and the Military Crisis Line at 1-888-273-8255. During an emergency, call 911.

“No one should feel like they have to fight this battle alone,” Brakefield said.