Being a good wingman: suicide prevention

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kyla Gifford
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
September is recognized as National Suicide Prevention Awareness month; promoting resources and bringing awareness about suicide prevention.

Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender or background. Those affected by suicidal thoughts may be left with a vulnerable feeling of shame, which can discourage talking openly and seeking help.

Staff Sgt. Spencer West, 30th Medical Operations Squadron bioenvironmental engineer technician, shared the story of her struggles with depression and attempted suicide, hoping to bring awareness and help to others.

"I was doing everything right," said West. "I was planning on starting a family -- I was excelling at work and going to school, just doing everything I expected at 25 years old."

Then West's life began to change unexpectedly. Her marriage began to fall apart, work became overwhelming and friends began to distance themselves.

"Each night I lay in bed alone, with no goodnight kiss and reassurance of forever," said West. "I realized how quickly life can change."

Depression took hold of West - she began to feel alone and think she had only one way out. Leaving work early one day West went to the store to buy medicine.

"I never planned on coming back," said West. "Two days earlier I wrote a suicide note to my family and friends. I wrote about how I needed to escape and that I was too tired to keep going. I knew what I was doing was selfish, but it felt like the only way I could find peace."

Meanwhile, Senior Airman Ashley Boeckholt, 30th MDOS public health technician, was worried about her friend.

"She came to my office before leaving work that day, but I was busy so she just left me a note," said Boeckholt. "I texted her after work asking what she was up to, but received no response. So, when our friend called me shortly after, I knew something wasn't right and I was overwhelmed with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach."

West was found by friends a few hours after consuming a bottle of medication. She was rushed to the hospital, where she received immediate care and was sent to an inpatient treatment center for a few weeks.

"My mother immediately flew to California and my true friends never left my side," said West. "I spent nearly two weeks at the treatment center with others who were dealing with depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and others who self-medicated their pain with alcohol or narcotics."

West started to feel understood; she found others who were going through similar issues, people who could empathize with her situation.

"If my friends hadn't found me and realized something was wrong, I don't know if I would be here today," said West. "I never wanted to die, just escape the pain. I was trying to make a permanent solution for a temporary issue."

When fighting for those living with mental illness, there is still much more that needs to be done and more ways to get involved.

"It's ok to ask for help," said Boeckholt. "Some people think that seeking assistance is a sign of weakness, but in reality it's a sign of great strength. I think it takes a strong person to share their vulnerabilities and admit when they need someone to talk to. Also, the Air Force itself is designed to help in times of need, not only through our countless brothers and sisters-in-arms, but the professionals in mental health who would like nothing better than to do their job and be a shoulder to lean on."

This month provides a time for people to come together and display the passion and strength of those working to improve the lives of Airmen, and their families.

"Life never goes according to plan," said West. "Make plans and goals, but never look at them as blue-prints for the way your life should be built. I hope if anyone finds themselves in a similar situation as I, they will reach out to a trusted friend, relative or professional, before they ever take the steps I did - I will tell you right now, life is worth it."

For more information on suicide awareness, contact mental health at 805-606-8217.