Suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Elora J. Martinez
  • 319th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Suicide prevention has become an Air Force priority for more than the past decade, in order for Airmen to build awareness and help understand suicide in our culture. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with approximately 44,193 Americans dying each year, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Suicide prevention starts with recognizing the risk factors and warning signs, which allows for conversations to open up. Providing support services, talking about suicide, reducing access to means of self-harm and following up with loved ones are actions people can take to help others.

According to the Department of Defense Quarterly Suicide Report, between January and March of 2017, 23 members of the Air Force died by suicide. That number includes active-duty servicemembers, reservists and Air National Guard members.

The wingman concept, stemming from the Airman’s Creed, is all about not leaving any Airman behind. This concept is crucial in recognizing signs of suicidal intention.

To better be prepared, here are some signs to look for:

- Expressing sadness often
- Anxiety and agitation
- Deteriorating physical appearances and neglect of personal welfare
- Sleeping all the time, or having trouble sleeping
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Losing interest in hobbies; loss of appetite
- Performing poorly at work or school
- Dramatic and frequent mood changes
- Acting recklessly; showing violent, self-destructive behavior
- Expressing feelings of guilt, shame or failure
- Desperation – feeling like there’s no way out or no solution to the problem
- Giving away possessions
- Making a will or otherwise getting affairs in order
- Trying to secure weapons, pills or other things that can be used for harm

The difference between losing someone who is thinking about suicide or guiding them to help could be an honest conversation. Talk to them in private about their story and let them know you care about them.

“Connection saves lives,” said Col. David Linkh, the Air Force Suicide Prevention Program manager. “Isolation, alienation and feeling of a lack of belonging places folks at risk.”

Ask directly if they are thinking about suicide, and encourage them to seek treatment or contact their doctor or therapist. Take the person seriously, and stay with them in order to remove lethal means.

“If a fellow Airman seems to be struggling, make simple gestures,” Linkh said. “Have lunch with them, talk to them and include them. Ask them how they are doing, or about their family. Stop by their desk and share a little bit about yourself.”

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line.