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Suicide prevention: 24/7/365 responsibility

(U.S. Air Force graphic by Naoko Shimoji)

(U.S. Air Force graphic by Naoko Shimoji)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Every September brings suicide prevention awareness month, however it extends far beyond just a single month; it serves as a yearly reminder to help keep the issue in the forefront of people's minds.

Suicide awareness goes hand-in-hand with exemplary leadership in the profession of arms. Making sure Airmen and their family members are resilient fosters a culture of trust and respect, and ensures the mission readiness of our service members.

"The Air Force, as a whole, is trying to empower itself to prevent suicide where ever possible," said Maj. Zebulon Beck, 18th Wing deputy wing chaplain.

As part of that empowerment, there are numerous resources to prevent suicide, including the Air Force suicide prevention website, the Military Crisis Line and local agencies such as Mental Health and the Chapel.

"Suicide prevention is very much like self-aid and buddy care," Beck said. "The Air Force does not expect all of its members to be its experts on how to prevent suicide or treat someone who is suicidal. What they expect is that Airmen be a first line of support because they are with the people every day that may be in that mindset."

However, active duty Airmen and their families should not be the only concern. It is estimated that 22 veterans take their own life every day.

In an effort to raise awareness about the number of veterans lost to suicide every day, Kadena has initiated Project 22. Project 22 is a participant driven initiative designed to raise awareness to the available resources on Kadena, to help mitigate the risk of suicide and to enhance resiliency among the community.

"We are looking at suicide prevention as more of a comprehensive Airman fitness," said Lisa Velez, 18th Wing community support coordinator. "To be truly preventative we have to get so far ahead of the event."

Previously, the Air Force focused more on briefings to keep Airmen educated on suicide awareness and warning signs. However more recently, the Air Force has refocused more on resiliency and taking care of yourself and others.

"Airmen are asked to be good wingmen but it is of equal importance to promote self-care," Velez said. "We should find time to take care of ourselves, enhance personal resilience; this, in kind, will cultivate a better wingman."
Leaders at all levels must continue to promote and encourage individuals to seek support agencies and clinician services as a normal step in maintaining a good work and life balance. Early resolutions of stress help Airmen maintain a balanced lifestyle, which in turn allows them to withstand, recover and grow in the face of adversity.

For more information and resources, visit the Air Force Suicide Prevention website at www.airforcemedicine.af.mil/suicideprevention.