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September marks Suicide Prevention month

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

The Veteran Crisis Line is a suicide prevention hotline set up to help prevent Veteran suicides and to try and provide help for those at risk of suicide. Since its establishment in 2007, the crisis hot line has answered nearly 4.9 million calls and initiated the dispatch of emergency services to callers in crisis more than 159,000 times.

Suicide Prevention and Awareness are observed nationally during the month of September. According to the Department of Defense website, in 2018, 541 service members committed suicide in active and Reserve components together.

Suicide Prevention and Awareness are observed nationally during the month of September. According to the Department of Defense website, in 2018, 541 service members committed suicide in active and Reserve components together. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Tech. Sgt. Iram Carmona)

Suicide Prevention is nationally observed during the month of September. The Air Force makes suicide prevention part of its annual training requirement so that Airmen can help their fellow wingmen.

Suicide Prevention is nationally observed during the month of September. The Air Force makes suicide prevention part of its annual training requirement so that Airmen can help their fellow wingmen. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Tech. Sgt. Iram Carmona)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas --

September marks a time when we observe an ongoing topic in America, Suicide Prevention.

The 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report reported that 45,390 Americans died by suicide in 2017 compared to 31,610 in 2005. Those deaths included 6,139 Veterans in 2017 compared to 5,787 in 2005. In 2017, Veterans accounted for 13.5% of all deaths by suicide among U.S. adults and constituted 7.9% of the U.S. adult population. In 2005, Veterans accounted for 18.3% of all deaths by suicide and represented 11.3% of the U.S. adult population.

 According to an article published in 2019 on the Department of Defense website, 541 service members died by suicide across the military, including active and reserve components in 2018. Since 2008, the number of veteran suicide deaths has surpassed 6,000 every year. Although suicide prevention is an annual training requirement, it still affects some units every year.

“You got to have suicide awareness, in order for there to be suicide prevention,” said Daniel Pickel, 433rd Airlift Wing director of physiological health. “We’ve been very fortunate to have great leadership that cares and has done a good job helping to direct suicide prevention.”

As a DPH, Pickel can, at times, be the first individual that speaks to a person that may be at risk of suicide. However, for the most part, he is here for an educational purpose. If a service member comes to see them, he will ask if they wish to speak to the chaplain.

“I’ve had about four service members in the past three years where a family member attempted suicide or committed suicide,” said Pickel. “But we’ve been fortunate enough that we haven’t had any attempts or suicides in the unit during that time.”

While writing this article, the public affairs office solicited several Alamo Wing members who came forward to talk about their experiences regarding suicide, the impact of the death of someone they care about, and the pain and grief family members and friends feel.

Below is one story provided by one of our members. The person’s real name was not used to protect their privacy.

Staff Sgt A: For her, it was a friend in high school that committed suicide. The last time she saw him was briefly in the school’s hallway. She saw from a distance that something was wrong. Almost as if though something upset him. She was not able to walk over to talk to him to see what had upset him, so she figured she would talk to him later. Little did she know that there would not be another chance to see him.

The next day she found out that he had committed suicide. His death impacted people in their close group to include many people in school. She knew him as a kind, sweet person that never showed any signs that he would ever consider such a thing.

Her message: Get to know your friends and people to the point where you know or can tell when something is up, or something is wrong. So, you can understand when there is a need to reach out and get that person the help they need. If you can tell that something is wrong, and they won’t open up, dig deeper, ask questions, look deeper, and then follow up.

Pickel went on to say that being there for your wingman is the key to suicide prevention. That showing empathy and caring for your fellow wingman does work. He stated that once people see that you care, people like to open up and tell you what’s going on.

“Hashtag, #BeThere,” is the tool that the Air Force uses to educate their social media followers about the many actions one can take to support a person who is struggling and help people find information and stories on suicide prevention. 

Another source is The Veteran Crisis Line; a suicide prevention hotline set up to help prevent veteran suicides and provide help for those at risk of suicide. Since its establishment in 2007, the crisis hotline has answered nearly 4.9 million calls and initiated a dispatch of emergency services to callers in crisis more than 159,000 times.

If you are or know a Veteran that needs help with suicide prevention or just additional information and guidance, the Veterans Crisis Line is ready to help. If you need assistance, veterans should call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.