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Leaders call for re-energized suicide-prevention efforts

by G.W. Pomeroy
Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs

WASHINGTON -- After 11 active-duty suicides since Jan. 1 and 14 during the final quarter of 2003, Air Force senior leaders are asking commanders and leaders across the service to assess and re-energize suicide prevention efforts at all levels.

The 2003 calendar-year suicide rate of 10.5 per 100,000 people was the lowest of all the military services and one-half the rate of a comparable civilian population of males between the ages of 20 and 50. As of Feb. 24, the service's suicide rate was 18.1.

In a letter sent to all major commands, the Air Force's acting assistant vice chief of staff urges all airmen to continue pitching in to reduce the number of suicides.

"Suicide is not stopped by medical personnel in emergency rooms; it is stopped by addressing quality-of-life issues in the unit on a daily basis," Lt. Gen. Richard E. Brown III wrote in the letter.

"The major components of the Air Force Suicide Prevention Program are active leadership involvement, an emphasis on community involvement and a focus on prevention throughout the life of airmen and their families, not just when they are suicidal," General Brown wrote.

"Pay special attention to the quality of your suicide-prevention briefings," General Brown wrote. The Air Force requires active-duty and civilian personnel to attend suicide-prevention briefings once during the 15-month air and space expeditionary force cycle.

In light of the recent suicides -- none of which occurred during operations Enduring Freedom or Iraqi Freedom -- General Brown urged commanders to "review how well we continue to implement the 11 initiatives that serve as the foundation of the Air Force Suicide Prevention Program."

The 11 initiatives are outlined in Air Force Pamphlet 44-160, "Air Force Suicide Prevention Program: Description of Program Initiatives and Outcomes." The 11 initiatives are: build community awareness; leadership involvement; investigative interview policy; professional military education; epidemiological database; delivery of community preventive services; community education and training; critical incident stress management; integrated delivery system; limited patient-psychotherapist privilege; and unit risk-factor assessment.

Air Force leaders take a community approach in suicide prevention, encouraging every airman to take responsibility in reducing the number of suicides.

A key element of the program is to make a steady pipeline of suicide-prevention tools available for Air Force people at all levels. So far in 2004, the Air Force Medical Service has issued the 2004 Leader's Guide for Managing Personnel in Distress, which is geared to help commanders, first sergeants and other leaders recognize when their people are distressed and learn how to respond appropriately. It helps commanders link their people to resources and get them help as soon as possible.

The guide presents information on 35 distressing situations, checklists detailing potential behaviors or signs reflective of a person's reaction to the distressing event, and responses or resources leaders may want to use in responding to a person's needs. The guide was distributed on CD-ROM to every squadron commander and first sergeant in the Air Force.

The guide can be viewed at https://www.afms.mil/afspp.

Other suicide-prevention tools include:

  • "The Air Force Guide for Managing Suicidal Behavior: Strategies, Resources and Tools," an 88-page clinical guide designed to assist mental-health professionals in assessing and managing high-risk behavior.
  • The Air Force Suicide Prevention Web site, which is geared toward improving access to suicide prevention information and materials.
  • The 2003 Community Suicide Prevention Briefing, a new multimedia briefing that includes slides and video.
  • The 2003 Leadership Suicide Prevention Briefing, a new multimedia briefing involving slides and video. This is geared toward wing, group and squadron commanders.

 

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