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When suicide happens in your unit

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col Roberta Smith
  • 10th Air Force Public Affairs
Suicide has been the focus of Air Force Leadership recently and is an issue we must pay close attention to and learn more about.

We don't want to think it will happen to someone we know, are close to, work with or even love. But unfortunately it does happen and when it does, the result can be pain, sorrow, guilt and regret.

It's hard to think someone you care about will actually complete the act, even when troubling signs are evident. When a coworker, friend or loved one exhibits signs of depression or stress in their life, we absolutely must take action. Follow up is very important and we must not let our concern be overcome by other events.

It happened recently to someone I worked with, cared about and considered a friend. Many of us who saw the signs tried in vain to help, but, deep down, never really thought it would happen. There is no way to put into words the pain and sorrow we feel. I will tell you ... it hurts and doesn't go away overnight.

We have got to take suicide prevention seriously and take action to help someone in need. Asking the person if they are "okay" is not enough -- they will more than likely give an upbeat answer even though they are deeply troubled.

Training to recognize when a person is troubled by depression or thoughts of suicide must continue. Leadership should acknowledge that those who they command will more than likely never, ever tell them they are depressed or are having suicidal thoughts. They must look to those who are close to the person for help.

A person committed to taking their life is not thinking clearly and is in no way selfish or wanting to inflict pain on anyone else. They may believe they have let everyone down and their life is not worth living. Of course this is not true! They have no idea, at that moment, how many people care about them and how sad those who know them will be when they are gone. Once they have made the decision, one of the signs exhibited is to express to you and others how great things are and what a bright future is ahead for them. Do not be fooled by this!

I write this to encourage all Airmen to take suicide prevention seriously. You never know if the actions you take will save the life of another. Help is available in many ways. The first person to turn to is your Chaplain.

I wish my friend had not taken his life and wish I could have done more to help. He served his country honorably and I am proud to have served with him. I pray he is at peace now and in a much better place.

Being a good wingman is critical and can save the life of someone you care about. Don't think it can't or won't happen to someone you know. My co-workers and friends can tell you it does. Please take suicide prevention seriously.

If we don't, the results can be devastating.