Wingmen stepping up to provide care

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Rebecca R. Imwalle
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
 Ellsworth remains steadfast in its efforts to bolster awareness of suicide risk, the resources available to assist Airmen and combat it, and ensure all Airmen recognize that there are others around them who may be at risk and how to help them if needed.

One of the efforts done recently involved conducting an exercise on how well workplaces are prepared when one of their own exhibits suicidal behaviors.

The 28th Medical Operations Squadron Mental Health Clinic conducted several exercises Sept. 16 through 30, designed to test the base's ability to recognize and respond to Airmen who show symptoms associated with suicide risk.

During the exercises, more than 20 Airmen played the role of individuals presenting known suicide risk factors, including contemplating suicide, and were instructed to not report to work on time the next day. When asked why they were late or not at work, they were instructed to talk about stressors in their life that are known suicide risk stressors, and to see if their supervisor or peer asked them how they were doing, encouraged them to get help, and asked if they are thinking about suicide.

The intent was to test to see how well people remembered their training and acted when they needed to act.

Lt. Col. Scott Krebs, 28th MDOS Mental Health Clinic officer in charge, said when the players were contacted, they were instructed to discuss the risk stressors and other warning signs suggestive of suicidal behavior.

"This exercise evaluated Airmen on their ability to recognize risk factors associated with suicide," said Krebs. "In addition, it tested their ability to get those Airmen who show risk factors the help they need to deal with their stressors."

Each exercise lasted no more than four hours and ended after each player was referred to mental health, a chaplain, their command and in many instances, their first sergeant. All participants were then debriefed by mental health, data was collected, and lessons learned were discussed.

"Most people knew what to do," Krebs emphasized. "Our Airmen quickly acted to get the individual showing symptoms the help they needed. Half of the players were asked if they were contemplating suicide, and 30 percent of Airmen remembered what the ACE (Ask, Care and Escort) suicide prevention acronym stood for. Overall, it was a good opportunity to practice what we've learned and most participants felt it was a meaningful experience."

Just as it is critical that Airmen recognize the signs of suicide risk, Dennis Wier, 28th Bomb Wing community support coordinator, said that it is vital that Airmen who may be contemplating suicide ask for help when they need it. He added that there are a wide variety of resources including chaplains, military family life consultants and the Military OneSource website that are available to help them cope and recover from difficult situations in life.

"Suicide awareness and prevention is not just a once a year training," Krebs emphasized. "It is something that we need to continually be vigilant about. While it may be uncomfortable asking a peer or subordinate if they are thinking of suicide, that is something peers and supervisors need to continue to train on like any other mentoring skill."

Both agreed that military families deal with a vast array of problems and many may feel they are not solvable. This, however, is far from the truth. Weir said that the most important thing for everyone to remember is that help is available, and that there is always an answer for the problems they face - but suicide is not it.

"If Airmen would start talking to their peers more, they would find out that often times they share common ground with them," Wier said. "Peers serve as an excellent outlet-- helping each other get through problems they're having."

For more information, call the Mental Health Clinic at (605) 385-3656