Letter to Airmen: Stress, mental health, suicide prevention

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As Airmen fight terrorism in the far corners of the world, the sacrifices asked of them and their families have increased significantly. These sacrifices have been accepted with courage and valor, and I am very proud of their contributions both at home and abroad. Nevertheless, under such circumstances, it is natural for our people to feel the stress of these demands and to be overwhelmed at times. Tragically, too often, these pressures end in suicide. This year the Air Force has lost more Airmen to suicide than to direct enemy action.

In stressful times such as these, with so many Airmen deployed and with so many others pushed to the breaking point, it is vital that we all understand that we are not alone. We are partnered in this war and bonded in the service. It is up to us to look out for one another. We must make every effort to understand the people around us, to talk to them and to get to know them on a personal level. We must treat our people with respect and demonstrate integrity and empathy up and down the line. Airmen must understand that they can talk through their difficulties. They must know that there is a wingman available to listen, be it a chaplain, family counselor, day care provider, or simply a friend.

In the battle against suicide, knowledge is one of our main weapons. Understanding the signs of stress and depression in yourself and others can empower you to know when to seek help and wingmen to know how to help each other. All Airmen should know that treating depression improves quality of life and job performance. It is extremely unusual for an Airman's career to suffer negative effects from seeking help for emotional difficulties. Getting help when you're hurting is the right thing to do. Smart Airmen seek out help when they need it and great wingmen know when to encourage their peers to get help.

Many suicides can be prevented. By working together, we can all make a difference and save lives. It is the responsibility of every Airman to be a good wingman and to reach out to those in need.