Academy focuses on suicide prevention

  • Published
  • By Amber Baillie
  • Academy Public Affairs
The Air Force's Academy is committed today to building a community that recognizes Airmen in distress and intervenes appropriately to provide resources, the Commandant Issues Team director said.

Knowing Airmen with strong mental, physical, social and spiritual fitness have the ability to withstand, recover and grow in the face of stress, representatives from the 10th Air Base Wing, the 10th Medical Operations Squadron, the Cadet Wing and other Academy agencies have teamed to develop a multi-faceted approach to suicide prevention, said Lt. Col. Vernon Mullis.

"We provide our cadets information from beginning to end," Mullis said. "From the time they arrive at the Academy until the time they leave, we want them to have a ground truth on suicide and the resources available to them here. The hope is to provide them accurate information early on so they can get accurate help earlier."

The first step in helping coworkers, friends and family cope with difficult issues is simple communication, said Capt. Sarah Robbins, the Academy's Suicide Prevention Program manager and a 10th MDOS Mental Health Clinic psychiatric nurse practitioner.

"We're trying to teach and encourage people, especially in this world of technology where there's not a whole lot of face-to-face interaction, to take interest in those around them," she said. "You don't have to know everyone, but try to get to know the people you have daily interactions with. It's important to understand that your interest in them may be a huge turning point in helping them during times of crisis."

Robbins said Academy members should trust their instincts if they sense something is wrong with someone they're regularly in contact with.

"Ask them if they're okay -- ask them at least two times," she said. "It's important to establish a sense of community by knowing your people. There is value in human interaction, so spend time with those you're regularly in contact with."

Chief Master Sgt. Stephen Ludwig, the Academy's command chief, said it's a mistake for any wingman to assume they understand how an Airman is handing a situation, so direct communication is a must.

"Whether it's coworkers who know someone is experiencing difficulties, supervisors providing assistance, or one of our helping agencies providing direct care, we all have a role in helping members of our team through challenging times," Ludwig said. "Open communication and honest face-to-face discussion are essential."

Along with communication, building personal resiliency is a vital step in assisting Airmen and cadets who may be wrestling with suicidal thoughts or depression, Robbins said.

"This is a major focus for Academy mental health staff," she said. "Part of how we build resiliency is by having struggles. We want to help people at the Academy to be better prepared and able to handle any crisis they face."

Mental health staff here are able to assist Airmen suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Robbins said.

"Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is treatable with medication and therapy -- you can be in the Air Force, seek treatment and have a successful career, she said. People diagnosed with PTSD do get better."

Along with the 10th MDOS mental health staff, Peak Performance Center counselors are available to assist cadets and Academy chaplains are available to assist anyone at the Academy.

"Chaplains have a wide variety of life experiences and skills," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Matthew Franke, Cadet Wing chaplain. "We have counseled thousands of individuals going through life's challenges. We can often provide a perspective that the individual can't see while going through the trials of life. Much of our counseling is not about religious issues, but the struggles we all share at one time or another."

September may be National Suicide Prevention Month, but according to Robbins, promoting suicide prevention awareness at the Academy is an everyday practice.
"This month gives us a chance to remind Airmen and their families of the resources available to them here, but suicide prevention should be a consistent community effort regardless of what month it is."

The Mental Health Clinic is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. It's available to cadets, dependents, retirees and active-duty empanelled through the Academy.

· First Sergeants and Commanders
· Chaplains
· Mental Health Clinic
· Supervisors and Co-workers
· Family Advocacy Program
· Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program
· Peak Performance Center
· Airman and Family Readiness Center
· Military Family Life Consultant
· Military One Source

· Always talking or thinking about death
· Clinical depression -- deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating -- that progressively gets worse
· Having a "death wish," tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving fast or running red lights
· Losing interest in things one used to care about
· Making comments about being hopeless, helpless or worthless
· Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, changing a will
· Saying things like "It would be better if I wasn't here" or "I want out"
· Sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy
· Talking about suicide or killing one's self
· Visiting or calling people to say goodbye

· Ask your Airman, buddy, co-worker or family directly: Are you thinking of killing yourself?
· Care for your wingman by calmly, actively listening to show understanding and remove any means that could be used for self-injury
· Escort your wingman by never leaving him alone. Escort them to chain of command, chaplain, behavioral health professional or primary care provider