Air Force

February 7, 2013

Watching your wingmen

Senior Airman Michael Washburn
355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

As military members, it is everyone’s job to watch out for each other. See an Airman with a jacked-up uniform, fix it for them. The same is true if someone knows an Airman who may be showing signs of contemplating suicide.

According to the Associated Press, the number of Air Force suicides in 2012 was 59. That number was up 16 percent from 2011.

Suicide is not a spur of the moment decision. There are a number of indicators when someone is thinking of ending their life. The way someone can notice these indicators is personally getting to know the people they work with.

“Just be a good wingman,” said Airman 1st Class Michael Osten, mental health technician. “People should pretty much know everyone they work with, so they should know how they usually act. If someone loves to go to the gym, and then suddenly one day stops, question him. One of the biggest things is to actually question people. People should be looking for a change, and ask questions if they see one. Be straightforward with them and ask the question: ‘Are you thinking about suicide.’”

Another big indicator is if someone is giving away possessions that are very dear to them.

“If someone has a watch they love that their grandfather gave them and they go up to another Airman and say, ‘I really want you to have this,’ then that’s a big indicator that something is wrong,” Osten said. “People don’t do things like that.”

One reason Osten thinks people may consider suicide is the lack of a support system.

“Some people are coming right out of high school or some 18-year-old that’s lived at home their whole life is moving across the U.S. and away from their family,” Osten said. “If something goes wrong, they don’t have their parents, grandparents or friends that they can go to for help.”

If someone is considering hurting themself or thinking about suicide, D-M has different support agencies on base people can go to if they need help.

“Mental Health has a few things Airmen can utilize,” Osten said. “We have a psychologist on staff; we also have a limited privileged suicide prevention program. Let’s say that someone is under investigation for using an illegal substance. Their career is on the line and it can be a very stressful time for them. They can come in and if they fall under the LPSPP, their mental health charts for that period of time can’t be taken by the investigative services. They can talk to us without worrying about saying something that may make it back to the investigators.”

Besides mental health, the Airman and Family Readiness Center is another tool to use, as well as the base Chaplains.

“The bottom line is to just ask if it looks like someone is going to hurt themself,” Osten said. “Don’t be afraid to ask the question. Be a good wingman and get someone the help they need, when they need it.”




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