Leave no Airman behind

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Every Airman who's been in the Air Force longer than a year has clicked through their annual computer-based training on suicide prevention. While the training itself is not always met with a high degree of enthusiasm from its recipients, the annual requirement is a hallmark to the importance the Air Force places on suicide prevention.

With September being Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Airmen are reminded to take care of themselves and their wingmen through difficult times.

"It's a constant battle; any Airman we lose is a tragedy," said Col. Chris Short, 366th Fighter Wing commander. "It takes the supervisor getting to know their Airmen and Airmen stepping in to make a difference."

The reasons an Airman might consider suicide vary from person to person, and could include a recent loss, whether person or property, as well as relationship turmoil, legal problems and financial stress. However, like many things, preventing an otherwise temporary problem from escalating to suicide starts at the lowest levels.

"Airmen will typically reach out to their peers for support before they will reach out to their supervision," said Capt. Steven Hyer, 366th Fighter Wing suicide prevention program monitor. "Helping them can be as simple as asking them how they're doing, listening to them and being willing to show concern for their well-being."

Hyer says a number of signs could indicate an individual is considering suicide, including increased alcohol use, deliberate isolation, giving away possessions, hopelessness, feeling trapped as well as any kind of significant mood change.

"A sudden positive mood after a prolonged period of depression may indicate that a person has resolved to commit suicide," he added.

Even if the individual is not considering suicide, a sympathetic ear could still be "just what the doctor ordered."

"Changes in behavior may not always mean that your wingman is considering suicide," said Hyer, "but it often means that your wingman is experiencing stress and having difficulty coping, and they could use your support. Listen to them."

Supervisors also play a crucial role in suicide prevention. As a leader and mentor, first-line supervisors are in a unique position to help an Airman in distress.

"Encourage them to get help," said Hyer, comparing emotional health to a performance-based car. "Every car needs a tune-up and getting a tune-up is not a sign of weakness, but a way to keep the car performing at an optimum level."

Even if Airmen don't feel they have someone to talk to in their immediate surroundings, several avenues are open to Airmen seeking help, including the Airman and Family Readiness Center, Military OneSource, Military Family Life Consultants, chaplains and Mental Health.

Hyer reminds Airmen to seek help when they need it, and that 97 percent of Airmen who visit Mental Health do not have negative career impact.

Another resource for military members, both active duty and veteran, is the Military Crisis Line. It was established in 2007 and, since then, has answered more than 890,000 calls and rescued more than 30,000 callers. An anonymous online chat service was added in 2009, reaching another 108,000 people.

To reach the Military Crisis Line with skilled responders who are knowledgeable of military culture, dial 1-800-273-8255 and press No. 1. The crisis line also is available by sending a cellphone text to 838255, or through online chat at http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/ActiveDuty.aspx.

"We much prefer that they call us when they're in crisis so we can point them to services. We don't want to risk losing any of them," said Tricia Lucchesi, Military Crisis Line responder. "Any person who calls the crisis line has the choice about how much information they want to share."

Hyer shared similar sentiments.

"We're here to help," said Hyer. "Even one Airman lost to suicide is one too many."

For more information on the Military Crisis line, visit http://www.af.mil/News/ArticleDisplay/tabid/223/Article/467068/responder-demystifies-calling-military-crisis-line-for-help.aspx