No immunity: Suicide hits home

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Diana M. Cossaboom
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Dead, deceased, departed are just a few words that describe the loved ones who have been ripped from their families as a result of suicide.

As of Aug. 1, for the calendar year of 2014, there have been a total of 52 suicides in the Air Force. In the United States, there were 38,364 suicides in 2010, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death in all age groups that year.

The recent suicide of actor Robin Williams stunned the world, while the recent suicide of a Shaw AFB Airman, floored the local military community and sent ripples through the ranks as his passing added to the increasing 2014 death by suicide toll.

While both suicides were a great tragedy, it reminded the world that depression is a real problem and anyone can be a victim of suicide. Both Williams and the Airman made the decision to take their lives, leaving family and friends behind. Whether rich and famous or a war fighter in the Air Force, suicide is prevalent everywhere and the issues that lead someone to committing suicide can be internalized by anyone.

No one is immune to struggles with depression and the sense of hopelessness regardless of how things may look to the outside world, said Capt. Jennifer Gillespie, 20th Medical Operation Squadron mental health officer in charge.

"The wingman culture is central to the Air Force's approach in taking care of its number one resource: people," said Gillespie. "Airmen take care of Airmen by making responsible decisions that keep themselves and each other safe and healthy."

Determining when someone is showing signs of distress and possible thoughts of suicide begins with being a good wingman and creating a relationship with that person.

People speak openly and honestly with someone who cares about them. It takes time to develop relationships with other people, and we don't always take the time that is needed to really connect with other people, said Chaplain (Capt.) Curt Cizek, 20th Fighter Wing chaplain.

"Know your people and don't be afraid to check-in on them if it seems like something doesn't quite feel right," said Gillespie. "There's no harm in showing you care and letting them know that you are there should they need support."

To prevent depression, being overwhelmed, or developing suicidal thoughts, Airmen are encouraged to look into different programs so they can receive help.

Some options include: chaplains, marriage care retreats, Air Force youth programs, new parent support programs, Airman and family readiness centers, recovery care program, Military OneSource, mental health programs, personal financial counselors, stress management classes, fitness centers, and the Military Crisis Line.

Everyone is different and has different problems. Sometimes people just need a bit of perspective. Generally, people are much more resilient than they give themselves credit for, explained Cizek.

"Life matters, even if you don't think you are making an impact on other people's lives, you are," said Cizek.

There won't be a day that goes by that parents, co-workers, and friends won't think about what they would have, could have, and should have done to keep that person alive. They are going to feel responsible for it, said Cizek.

Suicide prevention is a community effort; there is no harm in seeking help. Obtaining assistance early helps individuals work through problems. It is important for people to take care of themselves spiritually, physically, mentally, and socially, said Gillespie.

"Unit camaraderie and the sense of base community can be highly rewarding, as well as supportive, during difficult times," continued Gillespie. "Daily life in the Air Force is imbued with a powerful team spirit."

Losing a loved one is a devastating event that affects everyone surrounding that person. As wingmen, it is our duty to be conscious of problems co-workers may have and get them the help they need.