SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. --
Four months into 2012 more than 20 U.S. Air Force Airmen faced with the decision of seeking help or ending their life chose a quick, permanent solution to their problems, suicide.
The mental health clinic staff and base chaplains offer support for Airmen who are contemplating suicide to keep this number from inflating further.
"If you're having thoughts of death or suicide come in and get the help now. Most likely (asking for help) is not going to affect your career," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Lisa Bader, 4th Medical Operations Squadron mental health flight commander. "We want people to come in while they're still able to do the mission, that's why we're here."
Bader stresses that visiting mental health is rarely career threatening and that coming in for help voluntarily is the best case scenario.
"When people come in for treatment voluntarily, do their homework and make the improvements they want to make, they always talk about how much better they feel when they leave," she said.
While the decision to accept assistance ultimately falls upon the member, the wingman concept is important to recognizing a potential problem. Wingmen should be on the lookout for emotional changes in their friends and coworkers.
Bader said some potential risk signs wingmen should look for include a noticeable change in drinking patterns, work performance, and someone losing interest in their appearance.
"Big changes in behavior may not mean someone is suicidal, but it likely means there's something going on in their life and it's worth asking the question, 'Hey, what's going on? You don't seem like yourself,'" Bader said.
U.S. Air Force Chap. (Capt.) Thomas Baize, 4th Fighter Wing Protestant chaplain, echoed the difficulty of recognizing a potential risk for suicide. To aid the wing's Airmen he has implemented the SafeTALK program. SafeTALK, which stands for Suicide alertness for everyone, Tell, Ask, Listen, KeepSafe, trains Airmen to be approachable and openly discuss suicide.
"People who are (suicidal) need to feel they have a place to go," Baize said. "SafeTALK provides that safe place to go and get help. We make ourselves available and approachable so people can get help and maintain their dignity while doing so. Hopefully people will take advantage of the program."
SafeTALK also teaches recognition to prevent suicide.
"If somebody is contemplating suicide, we want (wingmen) to be able to recognize the symptoms and learn what circumstances and reactions equal a risk of suicide," the chaplain said. "We train people not for intervention, but for recognition. That way when there is a problem, they can recognize it and get the person at risk to the people at the professional level."
Even if Airmen aren't comfortable speaking to a SafeTALK representative, Baize said they can always come and talk to a chaplain and have absolute confidentiality with anything they discuss.
"The people who need help the most want it the least. It's difficult to get people proactive about these kinds of issues because they are in denial and afraid to admit the problems," Baize said. "In all of the suicides I've dealt with, I've never had someone who I was actively counseling commit suicide. When people get help, they make it through."
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