TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla --
‘Connect to Protect’ is the theme of this year’s Suicide Prevention and Awareness month, which takes place each September. Throughout 2020, the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 pandemic has forced many to physically distance or isolate at times making it difficult to establish or keep relationships, creating additional stressors leading to suicidal ideations.
Charles Higgins, 325th Fighter Wing violence prevention integrator, focuses on evidence based non-clinical violence prevention. Higgins says there have been three leading factors affecting suicidal ideations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These include financial stressors, social isolation, and a loss of routine.
“Financial stressors have historically been among the top stressors contributing to suicide risk,” said Higgins.
Additionally, social isolation and loss of routine have had greater effects on individuals throughout this past year.
“Social disconnection and lack of belonging is a risk factor for suicidal ideation,” Higgins continued. “(And) previously established self-care routines have been impacted by COVID-19.”
The pandemic has also impacted how suicide prevention and awareness efforts have been conducted on military installations within the past several months. Current installation restrictions mean, even with social distancing in place, events should not be larger than 50 people.
“Due to COVID-19, our focus has shifted away from doing large events,” Higgins added. “We are encouraging leaders around the installation to take the time to ensure organizations get more connected through small group discussions.”
Smaller group discussions may lead to deeper, more meaningful discussions among individuals. They also help people who feel that their voice would potentially get lost in a crowd. It’s important that within these groups an emphasis is put on interpersonal connections and building relationships so individuals could be able to tell if one of their fellow Wingmen is struggling.
“The overall theme ‘connect to protect’ really focuses on building a culture that mitigates the risk of suicide before they happen,” Higgins continued. “Being connected to one another also allows us to intervene early when issues do arise.”
One of the models used to navigate these discussions includes the ACE (Ask, Care, Escort) model, which is a three-step approach to suicide prevention.
“Be sensitive and direct,” Higgins said. “Asking about suicidal thoughts or feelings shouldn't push someone into doing something self-destructive. In fact, offering an opportunity to talk about feelings may reduce the risk of acting on suicidal feelings.”
“Help the individual find the right resource needed,” continued Higgins. “More importantly, be there for the person once help is received.”
“Never leave the person alone,” Higgins said. “Commit to doing a warm handoff by physically handing the person over to whatever resource is being used.”
These three steps are designed to be user-friendly, and are made even easier when fellow Wingmen truly connect. Daily connections and the relationships built with one another are essential in suicide prevention and awareness, so this month and every month, let’s all connect to protect.
If you, or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, or if you need guidance on how to help someone who is, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
For information about the Air Force Suicide Prevention Program visit https://www.resilience.af.mil/Suicide-Prevention-Program/.