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Suicide training, outreach programs available for help

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Airmen face problems ranging from issues at home to demanding work conditions on a daily basis. Fortunately, the Air Force takes care of its Airmen. Mental Health and the Military & Family Life Consultant Program are just two options available to help Airmen when the stress starts to become unbearable. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Airman 1st Class Heather Shaw)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Airmen face problems ranging from issues at home to demanding work conditions on a daily basis. Fortunately, the Air Force takes care of its Airmen. Mental Health and the Military & Family Life Consultant Program are just two options available to help Airmen when the stress starts to become unbearable. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Airman 1st Class Heather Shaw)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Along with the current force shaping of Air Force personnel and two ongoing conflicts overseas, each Airman is a vital part of the team - a team that has lost one too many members in 2010 already.

Suicide rates across all military branches are on the rise; the Air Force alone, has lost 18 members to suicide since the beginning of the year.

In an email sent to the Airmen of the Air Force Space Command, Gen. Robert Kehler, the AFSPC commander, asked Airmen to work together to combat preventable tragedies.

"A wingman is responsible to notice the differences in co-workers, family members, friends, supervisors and acquaintances," said Staff Sgt. Jennifer Robinson, a 30th Medical Group mental health technician. "When subtle changes occur in a person's demeanor or behavior, we should make every effort to ask about these changes."

It's important to know how to deal with the stressors that can lead to such a devastating end. Annually, Airmen are required to attend suicide awareness training; after hearing the same statistics and viewing the same slide-shows every year, some Airmen may begin to think that it will never affect them.

"Everyone, Air Force-wide, is affected by suicide," said Sergeant Robinson. "When we lose one member of our force, we are drastically affected."

Airmen need to know is that it is normal to be stressed and to occasionally feel like everything is going wrong, said Ms. Sally Galligan, Vandenberg's Airman and Family Readiness Center chief.


Getting help early when going through a stressful situation can help ensure that feelings of despair and thoughts of suicide don't start to invade an Airman's life.

"As soon as you realize that your coping skills are not in sync with your lifestyle, ask for help; the earlier the better," said Ms. Galligan.

Vandenberg's Behavioral Health Flight is involved in numerous outreach and education activities both on base and in the community. They collaborate with other base agencies such as chaplains, military and family life consultants and the Airman and Family Readiness Center to help foster resiliency among Airmen.


The Military and Family Life Consultant Program authorizes up to 12 visits for each issue that someone is struggling with. An attractive characteristic about the program is the confidentiality - no identifying information is recorded. The only exception is if a potential suicide is identified; the case is then referred to the mental health department.

A key to the MFLC program's success is that the counselors work on a six-week rotation and are all civilians.

"The idea is that MFLC is designed to make people more comfortable with asking for help since the counselors are constantly rotating; unlike the mental health counselors, you will not run into them at the commissary," Ms. Galligan said.

For people who want something even more confidential, or are too embarrassed to sit down with a counselor, there is another option - the Military One Source, a Department of Defense-provided consultation program. The program offers telephonic and online chat consultations 24/7, making it convenient for a person who can't get out of the office to sit down with a counselor.

In addition to all the agencies available to help, the Air Force has adopted a new tiered approach. The new tiers target all Air Force personnel and include training already in place such as the computer-based suicide training. In addition, tier two is a future requirement, only for at-risk career fields, which will be taught to all Air Force members during a half-day stand-down this month due to the alarming rise in suicides. Members identified as being an acute risk for suicide fall into tier one and will be provided clinical care by a mental health professional.

Programs like these are vital to helping Airmen cope with problems and remain mission ready. The programs can also ensure that Airmen know how to handle deployment stress and prepare properly for physically-draining missions. Just as Airmen train year-round to remain physically fit to fight, they must also remain emotionally trained.