Department of the Air Force Suicide Prevention Program
11 Elements of the Air Force Suicide Prevention Program:
The AF Suicide Prevention Program is built on 11 overlapping core elements stressing leadership and community involvement in the prevention of suicides.
- Leadership Involvement: AF leaders actively support the entire spectrum of suicide prevention initiatives in the community.
- Addressing Suicide Prevention through Professional Military Education: PME provides periodic and targeted Suicide Prevention training for Airmen and Guardians, specifically oriented to the individual's rank and level of responsibility.
- Guidelines for Commanders: Use of Mental Health Services: Commanders receive training on how and when to use mental health services and guidance on their role in encouraging early help seeking behavior.
- Unit-based Preventive Services: Helping-agency professionals partner with unit leaders to provide services at the work site to increase access, encourage help-seeking, and promote familiarity, rapport, and trust with the force and families.
- Wingman Culture: Wingmen practice healthy behaviors and make responsible choices and encourage others to do the same. Wingmen foster a culture of early help-seeking. Wingmen recognize the risk factors and warning signs of distress in themselves and others and take protective action.
- Investigative Interview Policy: Following any investigative interview, the investigator is required to 'hand-off' the individual directly to the commander, first sergeant, or supervisor. The unit representative is then responsible for assessing the individual's emotional state and contacting a mental health provider if any question about the possibility of suicide exists.
- Post Suicide Response (Postvention): Suicide impacts coworkers, families, and friends. Offering support early is associated with increased help-seeking behavior.
- Community Action Board (CAB) and Community Action Team (CAT): At the Air and Space Forces, MAJCOM, and base levels, the CAB and CAT provide a forum for the cross-organizational review and resolution of individual, family, installation, and community issues that impact the force readiness and the quality of life.
- Limited Privilege Suicide Prevention Program: Patients undergoing legal action who are at risk for suicide are afforded increased confidentiality when seen by mental health providers.
- Commanders Consultation Assessment Tool: Commanders use a variety of assessments (e.g., Unit Climate Assessment, Air force Community Assessment Survey, Airman Comprehensive Assessment) recommended by appropriate agencies, to gain insight into unit strengths and areas of vulnerability.
- Suicide Event Tracking and Analysis: Information on all AF suicides and suicide attempts are entered into a central database, currently the Department of Defense Suicide Event Report (DoDSER), to identify suicide risk factors and trends.
Warning Signs for suicide are different than Risk Factors. They are more observable, and should be responded to immediately. A common theme for Warning Signs is change. This is why friends, relatives, and coworkers are critical in detecting early Warning Signs of distress.
Many people who are at risk for suicide show changes in their mood such as hopelessness, depression, or anxiety. Other emotional and behavioral changes include agitation, anger, or irritability.
Changes in daily activities, for example changes in appetite or sleep, can be Warning Signs. These can include eating or sleeping significantly more or less than usual. Unusual or sudden changes in behavior, isolation, withdrawal, a loss of interest in work, or change in work performance are also Warning Signs. Even a positive mood change can be a Warning Sign if someone has been down for a while. It’s important to ask about the reasons behind the change.
And, finally, one very important Warning Sign is talking or communicating about death or suicide. All Airmen should be alert to these behaviors in others and be prepared to intervene.
The behaviors listed below may be signs that someone is thinking about suicide.
- Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
- Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
- Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
- Talking about great guilt or shame
- Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
- Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Using alcohol or drugs more often
- Acting anxious or agitated
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
- Talking or thinking about death often
- Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
- Giving away important possessions
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
- Putting affairs in order, making a will
If these warning signs apply to you or someone you know, get help as soon as possible, particularly if the behavior is new or has increased recently. One resource is the VETERANS/MILITARY CRISIS LINE, 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The crisis line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the crisis line via TTY at 1-800-799-4889.
Read a new study that shows Wingman-Connect helps protect Airmen and Guardians from suicide risk by creating social connections and building group cohesion.