Be an ACE at suicide prevention

  • Published
  • By Capt. Corey Carnes
  • 1st Special Operations Medical Operations Squadron
The Air Force Special Operations Command is made up of men and women who are at the tip of the spear. It is a culture of pride, honor and strength.

But Air Commandos are not individuals without fault or weakness; they are individuals who overcome deficits in spite of any weakness. They face the challenge of defending our nation while remaining resilient against personal hardships.

We must remember that a team is only as strong as its weakest link. When Airmen deal with difficulties managing stress, finances, work duties or family life, it is our responsibility to help strengthen that Airman.

When people fail to seek help when it is necessary, the general outcome can produce emotional degeneration which may lead to poor work performance and even suicidal behavior.

The statistics regarding suicide are staggering. According to the most updated information from the Center for Disease Control, suicide was the eleventh leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 33,000 deaths in 2006. This is the equivalent of 91 suicides per day; one suicide every 16 minutes or 10.95 suicides per 100,000 people.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among active-duty Air Force members, second only to unintentional injury. In 2008, the Air Force lost 40 active-duty members to suicide, a rate of 12.4 per 100,000. In comparison, there were 11 Air Force combat deaths in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom that same year. As of Sept. 1, 2009, 26 active-duty members have committed suicide, an annual rate of 12.6 per 100,000.

Suicide is rarely a spontaneous event. There are many possible reasons why a person might decide to take their own life. Often it is a combination of personal and situational problems that grow until they are perceived as insurmountable. Depression makes everything seem overwhelming, causing suicide to appear to be the only solution. But suicide is a permanent fix to a temporary problem.

Many individuals contemplating suicide avoid help, and those around them, though they recognize the warning signs, often avoid intervening. This highlights the key role for Wingmen to identify risk and encourage members to seek help.

It is difficult to talk to someone who is struggling with challenges. You might ask yourself, "What business is it of mine?" But it is every bit your business, whether you're a supervisor, co-worker, friend or family member. When one of us suffers, we all suffer.

We need to be aware of the warning signs of suicide and know how to seek help for these hurting people. By following a few simple steps, like those laid out in the ACE initiative, you can support struggling Airmen and get them the help they need.

Ask your Wingman: Have the courage to ask, and ask directly. (Examples: How are you doing? Is something bothering you? Are you depressed? Is there anything I can do to help? Are you thinking about hurting yourself? Are you thinking of suicide? How are you planning this? Will you talk to someone who can help?)

Care for your Wingman: Do so calmly, not forcibly, and actively listen to show understanding. Don't ignore the issues, take all threats seriously and remove any means.

Escort your Wingman: Never leave them alone. Stay with them and contact help. There is not a shortage of resources. There are multiple support and helping agencies just a phone call away like Mental Health, the Chapel, the Airman & Family Readiness Center, the Health and Wellness Center, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment and Military OneSource to name a few.

Life is filled with struggles and misfortune, but Air Commandos are resilient. But because no one can always go it alone, suicide prevention is everyone's responsibility.

Be a Wingman. Cover the individual next to you. Fight beside each other and for each other.