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Suicide prevention: What you can do

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy (AFNS) -- September 8th through the 14th is National Suicide Prevention Week. However, many people are hesitant to get involved in the discussion on the topic of suicide prevention.

This is concerning because the ability to get involved and intervene is critical to saving lives.

Suicide and suicidal behavior affect all people, regardless of gender, race, sexual, or religious orientation. Suicide is a problem of epidemic proportions that spans across the globe. There are roughly 39,000 suicides annually in the United States and the number increases to 1 million worldwide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death amongst individuals aged 15-24 in the U.S.

Many individuals that have contemplated and completed suicide erroneously believe their death will not impact others; but the truth is suicide impacts entire communities. In fact, it is estimated that for every suicide there are at least six survivors. Not only does suicide impact others, it very often shatters and devastates the lives of family and friends for years to come.

Another common misconception about suicide is if people want to kill themselves, there is nothing anyone can about it. This is not true. Experts believe that most suicidal individuals do not want to die. They just want to end the pain they are experiencing. Experts also know that crisis tends to be brief. When suicidal intent or risk is detected early, lives can be saved.

Major depression is the psychiatric diagnosis most commonly associated with suicide. Leading mental health psychologists emphasize the strongest risk factor for suicide is depression, but the good news is that depression is treatable, and 80 percent of people who seek help for depression are treated successfully. Other risks factors include relationship problems, other mental illness, substance abuse, previous suicide attempts, hopelessness, access to lethal means, recent loss of loved ones and unemployment to name a few.

By promoting positive self-esteem, connectedness, resiliency and recognizing individual achievement; family members, co-workers, friends and wingmen can play a vital role in preventing suicides. If someone mentions they are thinking about committing suicide, never keep this information a secret because physicians, mental health providers, chaplains, first sergeants and commanders can expedite resources to assist individuals who are exhibiting severe depression or suicidal behaviors.

With this in mind it is also important to understand that people who seek help will not get into any trouble for seeking help, and since suicidal behaviors are considered medical emergencies, these individuals should see a doctor or mental health professional without delay. If a suicidal person has a plan, or is in the process of carrying out a plan, to commit suicide, contact emergency assistance immediately. On base you would contact security forces or the command post. For emergencies that occur off base, dial 911 or your local equivalent.

As Airmen, we live and breathe the wingman concept. As such, it is imperative that we look out for one another at all times, no matter the circumstance. How can we do this? We can do this by situational awareness, talking and listening to one another, getting to know co-workers, celebrating each other's accomplishments, and by caring and encouraging one another.

Awareness, education and treatment are the keys to suicide prevention.

If someone mentions they are having thoughts about suicide, always take thoughts or plans seriously. If you are in a position to help, do not assume your presence is unwanted or intrusive. Your wingman needs your help, so stay vigilant ask, care, and escort.

For other resources, visit http://www.airforcemedicine.af.mil/suicideprevention/