JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
At the latest commander's call, Col. Richard McComb, Joint Base Charleston commander, spoke of being a nosey neighbor in order to help battle the alarming rise in the number of Air Force and Navy-wide suicides, stating that even one suicide is one too many.
"We must all take the time to care about those around us, that's what good Wingmen and Shipmates do. Supervisors at every level must act now," he said. "Get to know your Airmen and Sailors better, and understand their personal and professional challenges. This is not a time to sit idle and think this won't happen in your unit. No one is immune."
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, every 15 minutes someone in the United States dies by suicide and nearly 100,000 people make an attempt to commit suicide each year. They also state men are four times more likely to die by suicide than women; however, women will attempt suicide three times as often as men. In the year 2009 there were 36,909 reported suicides committed nationwide; of that 79 percent were males.
"Anyone, regardless of gender, religion, age or rank can be a suicide risk," said Master Chief Petty Officer Billy Cady, Joint Base Charleston - Weapons Station command master chief. "Airmen and Sailors are the first line of defense, so it is important for them to be able to recognize the warning signs of suicide - withdrawal, depression, anger, anxiety, mood changes or talks of suicide. Get involved. Do not let rank interfere when taking care of each other."
Programs like the Suicide Prevention Program for both Navy and Air Force personnel are geared to help leaders at all levels and peers identify behavior and situations that may indicate someone is contemplating suicide and prevent the loss of a fellow Sailor or Airman.
"All members receive annual suicide prevention training, but that is just one step - stepping up and taking immediate action is key," said Petty Officer 1st Class Jinnett Santos, Naval Support Activity Charleston command suicide prevention coordinator. "Getting involved and talking to fellow Airmen and Sailors is the key factor to help battle the rising numbers of suicides throughout the ranks."
The Navy's ACT program promotes three factors in dealing with individuals who may be contemplating suicide: Ask, Care, Treat.
"Ask simply means to ask a person how they are doing," said Santos. "If you see something is bothering a person or they seem to be under more stress than usual, try opening up lines of communication to get them to talk. Asking is always the starting point.
"From there, offer them hope by letting them know there are people who care and are willing to help," Santos said. "Finally, we want to provide them with the help and care they will need, whether it's a counselor or a chaplain, to get them through whatever they may be dealing with."
The Air Force Suicide Prevention Program uses the ACE model of Ask, Care and Escort.
"Asking a person if they are suicidal shows concern. Caring about the individual enough to listen is being a responsible Wingman. And finally, stay with the person and escort them to the mental health clinic or hospital," said Catherine Hallet, 628th Medical Group social worker.
According to Navy Personnel Command, there have already been 26 Sailor suicides in 2012 and in 2011 there were a total of 51 deaths contributed to suicide. Department of the Air Force recorded 56 Airmen and civilian suicides in 2011. Unfortunately, this calendar year has proven to be no better with a reported 26 suicides Air Force-wide, four in Air Mobility Command alone.
According to Cady, stress can be caused by many different factors which include financial and economic problems, relationship issues or even job situations. Extreme levels of stress can contribute to a person feeling overwhelmed and ultimately to taking their own life.
"The key to reducing the numbers of suicides is being proactive and getting help to an individual before the stressors become overwhelming," Cady said. "Early intervention is the answer in keeping an at-risk person from feeling hopeless and spiral out of control."
According to AFSP, 50 to 75 percent of all suicides give some warning of their intentions to a friend or family member. Those signs must be taken seriously.
The signs that most directly warn of suicide include:
· Threatening to hurt or kill oneself
· Looking for ways to kill oneself (weapons, pills or other means)
· Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide
· Has made plans or preparations for a potentially serious attempt such as giving away personal items, writing a will, etc.
Other warning signs include:
· Intense anxiety, usually exhibited as psychic pain or internal tension, as well as panic attacks
· Feeling desperate or trapped - like there's no way out
· Feeling hopeless
· Feeling there's no reason or purpose to live
· Rage or anger
"The loss of any service member is a concern for us all," Santos said. "It affects the workplace environment, our mission as a whole and leaves friends, co-workers and loved ones with questions of why and why didn't they see any of the warning signs. We all have to work on reaching out and doubling our efforts to help identify those at risk, let them know we care and get them the support they may need in order to regain some hope and balance in their lives."
Military and family life consultants, chaplains and medical professionals are available to help. Military One Source counselors are also available by calling 800-342-9647 or visiting their website at www.militaryonesource.com. For more information call the Mental Health Clinic at 963-6852.