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Suicide prevention and awareness

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- “Each year, 44,965 Americans die by suicide;” despite expert beliefs that this figure is underestimated due to the negative stigma surrounding suicide and poor data collection systems in-place (afsp.org). Even closer to home, “suicide is the leading cause of death of Active Duty Airmen,” with 151 reported from August 2016 through August 2017 (af.mil).

Data proves that the boundaries of “rank, gender, ethnicity, or geographically” do not exist with suicide, rather all Airmen are susceptible (af.mil). Further, age is not a discriminating factor, as suicide impacts nearly all age groups, being most prevalent with middle aged adults, “45-54 years of age” (afsp.org).

To the author’s surprise, this makes retiring members highly susceptible to the risk of suicide, as beyond the age correlation, many retiring Airman may experience significant lifestyle changes, monetary stressors associated with employment change, and even relationship changes, as an Airman and spouse may have differing priorities with an Air Force career coming to an end. It is estimated that 7,400 veterans commit suicide annually; “22 a day” (militarytimes.com). Bottom line, any understanding that suicide is a new pandemic associated with a misunderstood generation of youth, is simply false.

Despite the Green Dot training evolution, the act of actually committing suicide remains a bit of a mystery to Airmen. Not to suggest that Airmen do not understand how one commits the act of death, but rather why an individual chooses a complete absence of existence, versus seeking some form of help. The challenge moving forward will fall on all Airmen; active and retired.

How do we as an Air Force family get better at identifying the signs of distress? How do we find a better way to get those Airmen on the brink to open up, so that we can all become part of the solution of finally putting an end to suicide?

The following personal experience narrative is written by an Airman, about an Airman, for all Airmen:

You
Author: Unanimous Airman

The last time we crossed paths, was the day of your retirement ceremony. I was very nervous, as it was the first retirement ceremony that I ever officiated. I not only considered you a co-worker, but a friend. I did not want to let you down; I knew how great of an impact you had on my life and those around you. Once I saw the excitement in the faces of you and your family, it was clear that everything was going to be just fine. You were with the ones you loved. Those that meant so very much in your life. I can recall us talking several months prior; how you would miss the military, but why it was time to pass the torch. Time to focus on the family that had shaped the great person you had become.

I remember seeing periodic posts about your new life, how things were really moving in a new, meaningful direction. But then something dramatically changed. A post that you and your wife had reached the point of no return. After a long journey, you would each be going your own way. What had changed, I thought. I wondered how the kids would handle the separation. I felt powerless; offering to lend a hand. Letting you know that I was there if you needed it. Maybe hit the trails like we did before. Beside a thank you and a like, we both went along with our lives. Sometimes that is just how life is. We are all moving different directions, hoping to avoid the next bump in the road; not wanting to be a burden to those around us.

So then I hear from you again, but this time it is not you. I am asked if I heard what happened. You did decide to hit the trails, but this time it was a solo ride, and you had decided that you were not coming back. I am left with so many questions why. You were such a warm soul. A father to great kids that hopefully can find understanding as to why daddy is gone; never to come back. You were a friend that would do anything for anyone; the type of person we only dream comes into our life to share a story, hit a trail. I will miss you my friend. I will never completely understand why you chose a path of no return. Why you could not simply ask for help.

If only we had one more chance to get out there and hit the trail … maybe it could have been different.