When considering someone’s health, typically physical health is the first thing that comes to mind. Physical illness and injury is something many people are familiar with and have dealt with at some time or another in their lives. While physical health is important, there is an aspect of someone’s health that is just as important as their physical well-being and is often times neglected: mental and emotional health.
September is recognized as suicide prevention month and it highlights how important someone’s emotional and mental health is to their overall well-being.
“If someone has a broken bone, they would see a doctor, go to physical therapy or may even have surgery to fix the issue and get better,” said Capt. Jason Kelley, 7th Medical Operation Squadron clinical social worker. “We should treat mental health issues with the same care; the only difference is that you can’t see these matters in the same way that you can with physical injuries.”
Ignoring mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression can lead not only to a worsening of the concerns themselves, but can also contribute to an increased risk of suicide.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, more than 45,000 Americans die by suicide each year, and each of those deaths are preventable.
Everyone has a role to play in suicide prevention. Friends, family, wingmen and leadership are all important connections. They play an important role to understand and recognize the signs of suicide in others around them. Acting quickly and knowing what to do can greatly decrease the chance of suicide or harm to someone who needs help.
“Suicide can be a tough topic to talk about,” Kelley said. “We should be knowledgeable about warning signs and risk factors so we can help those in need, especially since there is a stigma about caring for one’s mental health that may keep them from asking for help.”
The commitment to connection with others is backed by the Air Force’s adoption of the ACE method, which stands for “Ask, Care, Escort.” These three steps can guide Airmen, family and friends when confronted with someone contemplating suicide. The Air Force Suicide Prevention website has more information on ACE and other resources to help prevent and respond to suicide.
There are many warning signs for suicide and it is important to understand what they are so that they can be identified and the ACE method used. According to the Air Force Medical Service, these warning signs include:
- 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
- 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
Mental and emotional wellness are an important part in being mission-ready in the same way that being physically well is.
“If you or someone you know suffers from suicidal thoughts, know that there are people who care,” Kelley said. “Taking care of your mental health is important, don’t feel afraid or judged for it.”
Multiple resources are available for those dealing with mental and emotional health issues, such as the Airman Family & Readiness Center (325-696-5999), the Mental Health Clinic (325-696-5380), the Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) or the Military Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255).
For more information about suicide prevention, please refer to the Air Force Medical Service page that lists risk factors, protective factors and further resources: