Suicide prevention is every Wingman's top priority

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- It is the second leading cause of death among 25- to 34-year-olds, third for 15- to 24-year-olds. On average, one happens every 16 minutes, making it the 11th most likely way to die in the United States. 

According to the National Institute of Health and Medicine, approximately 33,000 Americans commit suicide each year. People who attempt suicide are of all ages and ethnic, economic and social backgrounds. 

"If someone starts talking about hurting themselves, my biggest piece of advice is to believe what they are saying," said Capt. Travis Allen, an Offutt chaplain. "The number one cause of suicide is untreated depression." 

Too many people ignore warning signs and are afraid to bring up consequences, continued Captain Allen. 

Some common warning signs for suicide are extreme anxiety, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, low self-esteem coupled with isolation, sudden changes in mood or behavior, and unexpected preparations for death. 

If someone admits to a plan on committing suicide, immediately contact professional help such as the Mental Health Clinic, security forces, a chaplain or a first sergeant, he said. 

The Offutt Mental Health Clinic has 10 mental health providers and seven mental health technicians who are trained to deal with suicide issues, said Senior Airman David Esquerra, suicide prevention coordinator and a mental health technician at the clinic. This makes it one of the largest of its kind in the Air Force. 

The mental health clinic was part of the Ehrling Bergquist Clinic's recent Health Services Inspection, where it was awarded an "outstanding" rating. 

"We really emphasize the Wingman concept, and we encourage people to watch out for their fellow Airmen," Airmen Equerra said. 

Offutt has not had any suicide deaths in the last two years, though there have been a number of attempts, said Chaplain Allen. He said these attempts show that there is always a need for outreach to our Airmen. 

Starting suicide outreach became an Air Force priority in 1994. A service-wide program based on recommendations from the World Health Organization and the United Nations began in 1996. 

According to the Center for Disease Control, suicides during 1996 to 1998 dropped from 16.4 suicides per 100,000 members to 9.4. 

To help spread awareness and encourage action, Air Force chaplains adopted the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training approximately 10 years ago, said Captain Allen. 

The ASIST program is a three-day course designed to increase one-on-one interaction with people at risk for suicidal behaviors. The goal is to provide first responders with direct intercession skills they can use when encountering a suicide situation. 

Captain Allen recommends anyone interested in being a better wingman take an ASIST workshop. Offutt's next ASIST training workshop is slated to take place in August. 

"Being an ASIST responder doesn't make you qualified to fully treat someone who's going through tough issues," he said. "But the training really helps someone from making a permanent mistake." 

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," said Airman Esquerra. "And sometimes, just having more eyes on a problem can bring up the right solution to a previously unsolvable problem." 

More information about suicide prevention can be found by calling Military One Source at 1-800-342-9647 or by visiting www.militaryonesource.com.
Nebraska's Suicide Hotline can be reached by calling 1-800-273-TALK.
The National Suicide Hotline can be reached by calling 1-800-SUICIDE.