Multipurpose lock: the key to suicide prevention

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jose Miguel T. Tamondong
  • 354th Fighter Wing / Public Affairs

Suicide remains the leading cause of death in the Air Force. In 70 percent of total force suicides, personally-owned firearms were the most often used means. To curb this trend, the Department of the Air Force initiated a Time-Based Prevention approach to suicide prevention.

TBP is an intentional approach to mitigating suicide by primarily focusing on the “how” rather than the “why”. It leverages time, space and distance away from lethal means to allow the moment of heightened distress and associated impulse-driven responses to dissipate.

In April 2020, Kathy Foley, the 354th Fighter Wing Violence Prevention Integrator and Suicide Prevention Program Manager, volunteered Eielson to pilot the DAF’s TBP initiative. The program was very successful with over 2,700 multi-purpose locks distributed across the base from 2020 through 2021 and zero reported suicide cases last year.

“My job is to do everything I can to stop violence from happening,” said Foley. “I want to empower every Airman to know how to mitigate somebody in distress or that expresses suicidal ideation. To know how to handle these situations, to be able to have these uncomfortable and often hard conversations is the goal and prevents violence.”

According to research, one in four suicides happen within five minutes of an individual making the decision. With firearms, around 90 percent of these attempts are lethal. Therefore, delaying and limiting access between a person at risk for suicide and a lethal means gives them time to reconsider and potentially prevent an attempt. 

TBA efforts do not limit or prohibit an individual’s ability to legally own or use firearms. Its Lethal Means Safety approach includes but is not limited to safely storing firearms, medications and poisons that can be used for overdose; building barriers to jumping from lethal heights; and removing objects that can be used for strangulations.

Part of the initiative is the “Go SLO” campaign which represents three recommended options for lethal means storage: in Safes, with Locks, or Outside the home. The campaign aims to encourage Airmen, Guardians and their families to exercise safe storage to prevent both intentional and unintentional injuries by lethal means. 

In an effort to spread suicide prevention awareness on the base, Foley and her team continuously disseminate a variety of helpful materials such as magnets with resources individuals can reach out to and ‘Ask, Care, Escort’, or ACE, cards which contain questions to ask and instructions to follow when helping an individual contemplating suicide.

“Knowing what your resources are and having a game plan before somebody comes to you with suicidal ideation is the best case scenario,” said Foley. “ This way, if you are ever faced with a difficult situation, you already have a plan of action, one you are comfortable with and  you may save a life.” 

For more information, visit the Airman Resilience Center in Building 2223, or call 377-2130.