U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. - September marks National Suicide Prevention Month, an opportunity for the Air Force Academy community to continue working to decrease the negative stigma often associated with mental health.
In a Defense Department suicide prevention video released across the DOD earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said suicide is a “serious and urgent issue.”
“While suicide prevention isn’t just a mental health issue, we need to tackle mental health challenges and the everyday pressures and burdens that face our people,” he said. “Mental health is ‘health’ – period. We’ve got TO treat all wounds,”
The Academy’s Violence Prevention Office staff works to treat all wounds, too, by fostering resiliency and giving cadets, faculty and staff tools to guard against suicidal thoughts.
“We can change the language we use concerning suicides and seeking mental health services,” said Megan Lee, a violence prevention integrator at the Academy. “Words matter and how we talk about important topics such as these makes a difference in whether someone reaches out for help or not.”
This month, violence prevention integrators and 10th Medical Group staff handed out pamphlets and pocket cards with QR codes linking cadets and staff to support agencies. The VPIs also delivered tool kits across the cadet wing to promote an ongoing discussion on mental health and educate cadets and staff about suicide prevention.
"Seeking mental health early on is critical to our overall wellbeing,” Lee said.
Historically, Lee said, many patients associated with the military are hesitant to seek mental health services.
“If our heart was not well, we wouldn’t hesitate to seek the care of a medical doctor or take the medicine prescribed for such a condition,” she said. “We need to think about it through that lens instead.”
Late last month, the 10th MDG opened a second mental health clinic inside Sijan Hall, one of two cadet dorms at the Academy.
Maj. Tekia Jones, a 10th MDG flight commander, said the clinic is a benefit to cadets.
“Nothing has changed as we continue to care for our cadets and Total Force Airmen,” Jones said. “Personnel who work within the cadet wing, and cadets, appreciate the close proximity and convenience.”