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News > McConnell AFB officials focus on suicide prevention
McConnell AFB officials focus on suicide prevention

Posted 3/18/2011   Updated 3/18/2011 Email story   Print story


by Senior Airman Abigail Klein
22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs office

3/18/2011 - MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan.  -- As deployment rates continue to climb and operations tempo increases, Airmen must maintain their mental health, the Air Force's top enlisted Airman has said.

"We provide our Airmen the best equipment in the entire world, without a doubt, but ... the Airmen who operate it, ... the Airmen (who) maintain it and ... the Airmen (who) support it (are the most important asset)." said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Roy during the February 2011 Air Force Association meeting. "Our Airmen and their families are the most important asset that we have, and we have to take that into consideration."

Chief Roy's statements were in reference to the number of Air Force suicides last year. In 2010, 100 Airmen committed suicide, a 39-percent increase from 2009.

Since the New Year, there have already been 17 suicides, said Capt. Christopher Button, the 22nd Medical Operations Squadron mental health flight commander.

"Despite the perception that these suicides are due to higher deployment rates, most of the individuals who died by suicide had never deployed, or had only deployed once," Captain Button said.

To combat these statistics, officials from the 22nd Medical Group's mental health clinic here are hosting a suicide prevention briefing entitled, "Breaking the Silence of Suicide: A Call to Action."

However, the rise in suicides during 2010 was not the only motivation for the briefing.

"The Air Force has always been a leader (among military services) in suicide prevention," Captain Button said. "The Air Force's suicide prevention program was designed with help from leading mental-health experts."

The briefing will feature guest speaker Dr. Jason Deselms and Robert J. Dole, the Veterans Affairs medical center suicide prevention coordinator. Dr. Deselms will educate Airmen on suicide prevention and intervention, how individuals escalate from passive thoughts of death to suicidal ideation, to life-threatening behavior and the common reasons for suicide and how to deal with the aftermath of a suicide.

Though these themes may seem repetitive of traditional Air Force suicide prevention training, the method of delivery is more personal to Airmen.

"(This briefing) will allow Airmen to see suicide from a different perspective, "Captain Button said. "The Air Force training does a good job at explaining suicide and the warning signs, but this briefing actually puts it into words and will help Airmen recognize an individual at risk for suicide when they are right in front of them."

Besides increasing awareness, the mental health clinic members hope the presentation will lower the stigma of mental-health issues that are still present. The fact that more than 75 percent of Airmen who completed suicide had never been seen by a mental-health professional solidifies that this stigma still persists, he said.

"I hope that by seeing this presentation, Airmen will be more willing to seek the help they need before their problems escalate," Captain Button said. "Ninety-seven percent of Airmen who seek mental-health treatment see no negative-career impact. For the 3 percent who experience negative career impact, often times, they only seek help or try to resolve their problems after they have already become bigger than they would have been had they just asked for help in the first place."

The briefing planned here is just one of many efforts going on in Air Mobility Command to look after the mental fitness of Airmen and their families, officials said. The Comprehensive Airman Fitness program took shape within Air Mobility Command in July 2010, officials said.

According to an AMC talking paper, CAF "provides the framework to create and sustain communities on AMC installations that give Airmen and their families a sense of belonging to the Air Force community in which they live, work and play."

In defining good mental fitness, the paper also states that it's about "approaching life's challenges in a positive way by demonstrating self control, stamina and good character with choices and actions" and "seeking help and offering help" when required or needed.

"When our force is mentally fit, they are better equipped to take on the every-day challenges presented by the Air Force and the military," said Lt. Col. John Jorgensen, the Air Mobility Command mental health consultant. "We face deployments, high-operations tempo, and other stressors that bring us challenges every day in dealing with our mental health. We, as Airmen, have to prepare ourselves and find the right combination of things in our lives that gives us the tools to cope and manage stressors as well as do things that brings us happiness. From that, we can achieve mental fitness.

"Stay mentally fit. Stay physically fit. Stay spiritually and socially fit. Combined, this will make us all a more resilient Airman," Colonel Jorgensen said. (Courtesy of Air Force News Service. Master Sgt. Scott Sturkol, Air Mobility Command Public Affairs, contributed to this article)

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