Preventing suicide is everyone's duty

  • Published
  • By Capt. Benjamin Carter
  • 341st Medical Operations Squadron
Scheduled for the week of Sept. 8, the American Association of Suicidology is sponsoring National Suicide Prevention Week. Such a time prompts reflection on our efforts to ensure that we are taking care of ourselves and each other during times of heightened stress.

The goals of suicide prevention are similar to those associated with the maintenance and command of nuclear weapons: perfection. So while we can never be fully satisfied with our efforts, I am confident that the Air Force has been moving in the right direction for some time now. In 1996, the Air Force developed and launched the Air Force Suicide Prevention Program, an ever-evolving, evidence-based initiative, which has been identified as a "best practice" by numerous government and civilian entities.

However, any program is only as effective as the degree to which it is properly implemented. For us that means building a culture of responsible help-seeking during times of crisis, increasing awareness for signs of distress in ourselves and our Wingmen, and going out of our way to intervene when those signs are evident.

In the year that I have served here at Malmstrom Air Force Base, I have seen countless examples of Airmen watching out for fellow Airmen. Supervisors have accompanied their Airmen to seek help during times of crisis, and friends have repeatedly prompted friends to talk to a professional when they have noticed persistent changes in their demeanor and behavior. Commanders have personally checked on their Airmen who are going through a hard time. Overall, I've seen Airmen support their fellow Airmen in many positive ways to help them get through difficult periods.

The opposite cycle happens when we let the myths and misconceptions go unchallenged that serve to dissuade us from reaching out for help. Some of these myths are that being tough means never needing help, being seen in Mental Health means that "everybody will know my business," or that disclosing difficulty will indefinitely and irrevocably interfere with one's qualification to do the job he or she is well trained to do. These myths (and that is what they are, just myths) are a primary obstacle in our path toward building a culture of responsible help-seeking.

Moving forward, we need to do better at modeling responsible help-seeking behaviors. If you have had a good experience receiving support during a difficult time, share that with your peers and those you supervise. If you have experiences, which contradict a misconception, let others know. These efforts help us create a culture, which supports early help-seeking and maintains the highest levels of emotional fitness possible.

Please continue to be aware of the risk factors and signs of distress that we are trained to observe. When the signs are there, please ask the appropriate questions and refer or accompany Airmen to the appropriate resource. Sources of support can be informal such as friends, family, or supervisors. They can include unit members or a first sergeant. Or, they can include the many helping agencies available on base, such as Chaplains, the Airmen and Family Readiness Center, the Military Family Life Consultant or the Mental Health Clinic.

For more information and helpful resources, visit the Air Force Suicide Prevention website at