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Suicide awareness: how to save a life

  • Published
  • By Capt. Michelle White
  • 375th Medical Operations Squadron
Suicide. Say it out loud. Suicide. Saying it and talking about it doesn't cause it, but it could prevent it. It could open up dialogue with someone who is thinking about ending his or her life. It could create learning opportunities about the risk factors and warning signs of suicide and encourage discussion about what to do if you think someone could be having thoughts of harming themselves. Saying it and talking about it and asking about it could save a life.

Fortunately, the data shows that less than 1 percent of the population will die by suicide. However, one life lost to suicide is one too many. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2010, in the United States, 38,364 people died by suicide. Suicide now ranks as the 10th leading cause of death for Americans, and the second leading cause of death for young adults age 25 to 34.

The Air Force, unfortunately, is not immune to this issue. While the vast majority of Airmen never experience suicidal thoughts, or are able to connect to available resources to seek the help they need, there is a very small percentage of Airman who do take their own lives.

In 2011 there were 46 confirmed suicides by active duty Airmen. Approximately one third of those who died are known to have told someone about their intent to take their life. Most of the confidants who had been told of the person's wish to die were spouses or friends, according to the 2011 annual Department of Defense Suicide Report. That translates into the simple fact that someday you could be the one in the position to help save a life.

There are warning signs that someone could possibly be thinking of harming themselves. While this list is not all-inclusive, some things to look for in an individual are:

· Talking about wanting to die, feeling hopeless, trapped, or in unbearable pain or being a burden to others

· Looking for a way to kill oneself

· Acting anxious, agitated, or reckless

· Sleeping too little or too much

· Withdrawing or feeling isolated

· Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

· Displaying extreme mood swings

· Depressed and suddenly appears very happy, especially if one is giving personal items away.

If you are with a person you believe could be suicidal, it's important that you act immediately. A simple and easy way of remembering what to do if you are presented with this situation is to use the ACE Model.

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?

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 buddy alone. Escort to chain of command, chaplain, behavioral health professional, or primary care provider.
If you are the person experiencing thoughts of taking your own life, know that there are resources available to help you. Tell a friend, a co-worker, a spouse, or your supervisor. Talk to a chaplain. Call Mental Health to schedule an appointment at 256-7386 or walk-in during normal clinic hours, which are Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

In addition, servicemembers, including members of the National Guard and Reserves, along with their loved ones, can contact Military OneSource ( or can call the Military/Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at, or send a text message to 838255 to receive free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

It takes the courage of a warrior to ask for help. Be that warrior for yourself or someone else if the need arises.