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Thirty Airmen dead in CY07--make 2008 better year

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Thirty Airmen Air Force-wide are dead--they took their lives, during a period of 10 months in 2007. That number does not include suicide attempts. These are not just numbers; they were actual people who left behind grieving families and friends. You may be able to save future lives if you take the time to learn what you can do to help prevent this tragic loss of life.

If you are active duty, you have attended suicide prevention briefings and have likely read articles in the base paper about suicide prevention. If you are a family member, then you have also probably read articles in the base newspaper on this topic at various times during the year. You may feel like you've heard this all before and are asking yourself, "Why do I need to hear about this again?"

Maybe because even with all the programs in place people are still dying and people are still saying after the fact that they were signs.

Why is suicide a community issue? How does this involve me? What can I do about it?

In the course of all our jobs, we all work with people and have a reasonably good idea what is normal for them and when something is not right for them.

It takes each of us watching out for one another to help prevent suicides. This is what the Wingman Concept is all about. As a mental health provider, I work in the Mental Health Clinic. I don't work in the various squadrons and sections on base.

Since you are with your co-workers every shift, every day, you are the front line in noticing changes in friends or co-workers that may be concerning. It is pivotal that you look for the warning signs of suicide and then help people make contact with the Mental Health clinic or one of the other resources offered.

Research indicates 75 percent of people who attempt or commit suicide have shown warning signs. The following are warning signs to look out for: Depressed mood, anger and irritability, significant decrease in sleep and/or appetite, isolation and withdrawal, deterioration in work performance and peer relationships, loss of interest in normal activities, feelings of hopelessness/helplessness, giving away personal or prized possessions, increased alcohol or drug use, and lack of interest in personal appearance.

You can help by being honest and direct. Share your concern for their well-being, express a willingness to help, use open-ended questions, ask directly if they have thoughts or plans for suicide, and take any report of suicidal thoughts seriously. If the person tells you they are having thoughts, or a plan, and/or intent to commit suicide, do not leave them alone. Call 911 or the 354th Security Forces Squadron or take them to the nearest Emergency Room or Mental Health Clinic. Notify the member's supervisor, first sergeant, or commander.

As a Wingman, your job is to look out for your fellow Airmen and know what resources are available, not be a mental health expert. There are many resources available on this base and Air Force wide.

The Mental Health Clinic, ADAPT, and Family Advocacy Programs are all in one location in the medical clinic and can be contacted at 377-3071/4041. Chaplains are another excellent resource and they can be contacted at 377-2130.

There is also the Military Family Life Consultant, which is part of the Airmen and Family Readiness Center, and can be reached at 377-4938.

The resources available can help people better manage their problems before the problems start managing them. Most importantly, the earlier resources are accessed, the quicker recovery tends to be in the majority of the cases. When in doubt call any of the above agencies, they will be happy to give you information or steer you in the right direction.