Agents of hope: Suicide prevention program encourages all to ‘connect to protect’

  • Published
  • By Ken Robinson
  • U.S. Air Force Academy violence prevention integrator

Each September, the Defense Department highlights suicide awareness and resources available for service members and families across the military with National Suicide Prevention Month.

Relationship problems; school; work; legal issues; alcohol and drug abuse; and significant life changes or losses rank among the risk factors leading to suicidal ideation and attempt. Many of us have encountered these risk factors and successfully overcame our challenges, but the risk of suicide increases if our stress becomes distress and we believe we can’t cope. Many psychologists’ list intimate loneliness; relational loneliness; collective loneliness; and social isolation - all interpersonal needs challenges - among the risk factors.

Intimate loneliness occurs during an absence of a “significant other”; relational loneliness occurs during the absence of close friends or family; collective loneliness occurs if we lack a social network; and social isolation occurs when interpersonal contacts are disrupted or nonexistent.  Withdrawal and isolation are warning signs for suicidal ideation and risk. During the coronavirus pandemic, it’s likely we all experienced collective trauma.

A sense of belonging, inclusion, contributing to something meaningful, gratitude, optimism and hope are protective factors against suicidal ideation and the act itself. A sense of connectedness and secure relationships rank high on the list of protective factors, too. Simply said, healthy and strong interpersonal relationships are proven to decrease the risk of suicide.

Connecting people with the resources to overcome the challenges they face shows we care. Resources at the Academy include chaplains; community support coordinators; family advocates; the 10th Medical Group Mental Health Clinic; military family life counselors; Peak Performance Center and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response staff; and violence prevention integrators. And, let’s not forget first-line supervisors. Whether commissioned, enlisted, or a civilian employee, first-line supervisors play a vital role in addressing in directing their teammates to the proper resources. First-line supervisors have the potential to save a life.

We all have a role in preventing suicide by promoting an environment fostering care, concern, and intervention. We’re all agents of hope able to deeply connect with others.

Let’s rally around each other; develop safe and secure relationships, and be brave enough to share our concerns and talk about difficult subjects, like suicide.

Visit the Air Force Resiliency Program website to learn about the resources supporting suicide prevention. The National Suicide Crisis Hotline can be reached by dialing or texting 988 at any time.