Suicide prevention amongst wingmen

  • Published
  • By Capt. Tiffany Brakefield
  • 4th Medical Operations Squadron
Some battle scars are not easily observed, physical injuries are obvious but those associated with emotional pain and suffering can often stay hidden to the casual observer until it's too late.

September was Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, throughout Air Combat Command and the Department of Defense.

Airmen must demonstrate a collective determination to prevent suicide and encourage those in need to seek support. No Airman should ever feel as though they don't have anywhere to turn. Our most valuable resource is our Airmen.

Open communication with each other about our emotional well-being is essential to reducing our suicide rates. Despite any discomfort it may create, asking someone directly about suicide is an important responsibility for all Wingmen, especially if you are concerned about someone's well-being.

Asking someone directly about suicide does not increase their risk for killing themselves or speed up the process--the idea that talking about suicide openly will give someone the idea of hurting themselves is a myth. In order to help wingmen who are unsure how to handle someone who may be at risk for self-directed violence, the Air Force has created a program called 'ACE.'

ACE stands for:

- Ask directly, "Are you thinking of killing yourself?"

- Care, intervene or control the situation. Use active listening and remove any weapons for self-harm

- Escort them to a primary care provider, Chaplain or mental health professional. Never leave a suicidal friend alone, stay with them for support, even if that means sitting next them while they wait for professional help.

Risk factors associated with suicide include increased alcohol and substance use, a recent loss (relationship, job, death of a loved one), access to weapons, feeling hopeless, and feeling isolated or like a burden to others.

Protective factors include seeking help, a sense of family, and community connectedness. This last protective factor is one we can easily foster within our wingman culture.

Resources for mental health are available both on and off base. The easiest resource for active duty service members is calling their local mental health clinic. Another viable option is the Military Crisis Line at (800) 273-8255, option one. The Military Crisis Line services are confidential and available to all service members and their families 24 hours a day.

Seeking behavioral health care is a choice that embodies the core values of the Air Force. These values are at the foundation of what we stand for and what we defend. When one of us faces a challenge, we all must stand together, as Airmen. By fighting as a team and a community, we can help prevent suicide.