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Step in: Ask, Care, Escort

Suicide Prevention

(Air Force graphic)

Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, D.C. -- (October is Suicide Prevention Month. This story on Intervention, is the second in a series of three dedicated to this cause.)

By nature, I am not the most observant person. I never notice my wife's change of hair color or style, I am never certain if the outfit is new or not, and I could not tell you the last time the kids took a bath. That last sentence took me over an hour to write because I am not even aware of the things I don't observe. But all that changes during college football season! I know exactly what time and what channel College Game Day comes on. I can tell you if my alma mater, the University of Maryland Terrapins, is on television and who they are playing. (At this writing, they are 2-0 with a home game against Connecticut on Saturday at 12:30 on a channel not available on my cable system.)

I can be very observant when something is important to me; and there is nothing more important than the people in my life. We are all in this military family and we have a crisis in our total force. Our active duty, Reserve, Guard, civilian employees and family members are killing themselves at an alarming rate. No service is spared the horrible scourge of suicide. The good news is that all of us can be part of the solution. Each of you is an early-warning sensor able to spot the risk factors and the warning signs of suicidal intentions.

According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, there are many warning signs to look for in our friends and coworkers.

These include:
· Talking about not wanting to be around anymore
· Giving away possessions
· Depression
· Anxiety
· Reckless behavior
· An increased use of alcohol and drugs

Additionally, there are risk factors that raise the likelihood of a suicide attempt. These include major health, occupational, legal, and financial or relationship issues.

Other risk factors include a sense of isolation and a perceived stigma associated with asking for help. This is where we come in as good wingmen, shipmates and battle buddies. All of us should be observant of those around us and look for differences in personality or behavior. We can remove the stigma of asking for help by being helpful ourselves. If you do get a sense that your friend or coworker may be suicidal, it is an emergency that requires immediate intervention.

The Air Force uses the ACE acronym in suicide prevention. "A" is Ask your wingman. It may take courage, but calmly and firmly ask the question. Just say it: "Are you thinking of killing yourself?"

"C" is Care for your wingman. Calmly and safely control the situation without using force; remove any means that could be used for self-injury without putting yourself in harm's way; and actively listen to show understand and can offer relief.

"E" is Escort your wingman. Never leave him or her alone; escort your wingman to the chain of command, chaplain, mental health professional, to their primary care provider or to the nearest emergency room. Additionally, you, as an intervener, can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Similarly, the Navy uses the ACT acronym standing for Ask, Care and Treat. Whether you use ACE or ACT, it is important to take your intuition seriously. It is an emergency that requires immediate action. We must get involved by being direct and non-judgmental. Ask and then listen! Do not be sworn to secrecy. Offer hope, not advice, and get help.

When it comes to observations, people are much more important than a football game. Paying attention and intervening may save a life.