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Suicide awareness: Robin Williams and the Golden Gate Bridge

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Craig A. Carpenter
  • 375th Medical Operations Support Squadron
What do Robin Williams and the Golden Gate Bridge have in common? Suicide--yes, I said suicide.

Robin Williams started his comedic legacy in the bay area and tragically ended his life there. The Golden Gate Bridge may be a tourist attraction and symbol of engineering genius in America; however it embodies a dark secret.  There have been 1,600 confirmed deaths at the Golden Gate Bridge since 1937.

With his genius comic relief, Robin Williams used the Golden Gate Bridge in his stand-up and was quoted, "If you've ever thought of jumping off of a tall building, there was a guy who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. He survived, and he said this, 'halfway down, I thought it was a bad idea.'" Many survivors are grateful they didn't succeed because they have found a sense of resiliency and the ability to speak out about their survival. 

The Air Force is no exception when it comes to suicide. It is disappointing when an Airman decides to give up on seeking help and chooses to take his or her own life.

The majority of Airmen handle their stressors appropriately; however in 2013 the Air Force lost 55 Airmen to suicide. This is a very small percentage of the Air Force which consists of 324,000 active-duty members; however these 55 individuals were sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, grandchildren, and fellow Airmen. Since January 2014, the Air Force has had 34 completed suicides. What can you do to prevent the 35th from happening to your subordinate, supervisor, friend, co-worker, or family member?

Approximately one-third of Air Force personnel who committed suicide told someone about their intent to take their own life. More importantly, very few individuals discuss their suicidality with a behavioral health professional, which means you may come into contact with people who are having thoughts of harming themselves.  You may be asking, "What can I do? I am not the expert." Let me tell you what you can do: know the warning signs, talk about it, talk about it again, and talk about it some more.

The warning signs may include but are not limited to: talking or writing about wanting to die, hopelessness, trapped, burdening others, identifying ways to kill oneself, anxiety, agitation, sleeping too little or too much, withdrawing, extreme mood swings, and giving personal items away.

When you talk about it use the ACE Method. A is for Ask your Wingman.  Have the courage to ask the question, but stay calm.  Ask the question directly: Are you thinking of killing yourself? If they say yes get specifics about how and when they plan to do it. 

C is for Care for your Wingman. Calmly control the situation; do not use force; be safe.  Actively listen to show understanding and produce relief.  Remove any means that could be used for self-injury.

 E is for Escort your Wingman.  Never leave your Wingman alone.  Escort your Wingman to Mental Health, Chaplain, Primary Care Provider, or Chain of Command.

If you are experiencing thoughts of hurting yourself speak to a friend, co-worker, spouse, or supervisor.  If you find this is not resolving the situation, consider contacting a chaplain (256-3303), contact Mental Health to schedule an appointment at 256-7386 or walk-in during clinic hours (Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. except holidays and wing training day afternoons). Servicemembers to include National Guard, Reserves and their loved ones may also contact the Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. If you prefer to speak with a veteran about your circumstances consider contacting Vets 4 Warriors at 1-855-838-8255 or you may use their online chat located at The Airman's Creed emphasizes the "Wingman, leader, warrior" concept.  It takes a true "Wingman, leader, warrior" to seek help when needed and be there for others in their time of need.