Suicide prevention: The effort starts with you

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Lee A. Osberry Jr.
  • 5th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
"Mr. Smith, there's been an accident. Your son was found in his home deceased with what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot. We are deeply sorry for your loss and the Air Force is here to help you in any way possible."

The father lets out a loud shriek and with tears streaming cries, "Why? Why did this happen? I just talked to him yesterday."

This scenario is one of the most difficult situations commanders may find themselves in. The universal questions always come down to "Why?" and "Could it have been prevented?"

Unfortunately one may never know all the answers, but there are usually signs if someone close to you is thinking of harming himself or herself. Airmen should be aware of these signs and do what they can to detect these signs in their wingmen.

Usually, the person doesn't necessarily want to die but is looking to stop whatever is causing the pain.

A drastic change in behavior or mood is usually the most obvious and initial signs of trouble. A person may be unaware of another's personal issues at home but deterioration in one's attitude, dress and appearance are a hint something is awry.

"Social withdrawal, poor hygiene, plus drug and/or alcohol abuse are red flags," said Senior Airman Ashley Albright, a 5th Medical Group suicide prevention monitor. "Other common signs are eating or sleeping difficulty, talking about suicide, unusual risk taking, a sense of hopelessness and relationship problems."

A common misconception about suicide is that you could put the idea in a person's head.

"This is false," said Master Sgt. John Jeziorske, the 5th MDG Mental Health Clinic flight chief. "If you have a concern about it, and they have shown other signs, they've likely thought about it. Anything to help the individual communicate about this shared concern is great."

According to a report from Air Combat Command officials there were 46 total force suicides in 2008 and 2009 across the Air Force.

One of the most immediate ways people can make an impact in a person's life is to recognize the signs and act.

"Knowing the resources ahead of time, removing any lethal means, staying with them and asking them directly are critical," Airman Albright said.

Actively listening to the person, highlighting the positive reasons for them to live, and most importantly, getting them to the mental health clinic or the closest hospital are all ways someone can help in breaking the "tunnel vision."

"Suicide is truly a permanent solution to a temporary problem," Airman Albright said. "Although we can give you the number of completed and attempted suicides throughout the past decade, there is no way we can give how many times someone took the opportunity to listen, care and a life was saved."

Editor's Note: For more information on suicide prevention, visit

If you are a member of Team Andersen and you're having suicidal thoughts or traumatic problems in your life, you can contact the following agencies for assistance:

36th Medical Group Mental Health Clinic - 366-5125 or 911 to notify on-call provider.
36th Wing Chaplains - 366-6139