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On Guard: Suicide prevention requires attention

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Timi Jones
  • 111th Attack Wing Public Affairs
"The potential [for suicide] is there for any of us" said Mark Obenour, the 111th Attack Wing director of psychological health (DPH) here. "You don't know what trauma you'll face."

No one is exempt from life changes. Unexpected occurrences and traumatic experiences beyond our control are inevitable. And while people may experience similar situations, their reactions will not always be the same.

"You will have someone who's going through life just fine, and then something just hits them," Obenour said. "I have seen the most resilient people lose control."

Because the possibility for suicide can impact anyone, it is important to know the warning signs in order to aid in prevention.

According to the Department of Veteran's Affairs website, some of the signs are hopelessness; anxiety; agitation; mood swings; sleeplessness; anger; withdrawal from family and friends; risky behavior and substance abuse.

"Operating outside of your usual personality is a sign," Obenour said. "Maybe someone who's usually more outgoing becomes more introverted. Or maybe someone who's usually rigid and less flexible no longer cares. Some who's open can become more closed. You may see a dullness or a social withdrawal."

Recent reports indicate that Reserve and National Guard military forces are now facing a significantly increased risk. An article in the Military Times (April 4, 2016/Patricia Kime) titled "Reserve suicides up 23 percent -- active-duty count remains steady" stated that while active-duty personnel suicides have decreased since 2014, Reserve and National Guard suicide rates have risen by 23 percent.

"Military members have such a high rate of suicide because they have more stressors," Obenour said. "[Such as] moving around, separation from loved ones, deployments."

Reservists and Guardsmen spend less time together on base than active duty members and under those circumstances, it may be difficult to detect warning signs of suicide amongst one another.

"Asking your wingman about their life and the changes is good way to stay on top of [warning signs]," Obenour said. "People suffering with depression and suicidal thoughts actually like when you show concern, so they more than likely will open up."

If your wingman tells you they have just suffered a major life event, such as divorce, financial issues or losing a loved one, it is extremely important to pay attention to behavioral changes.

"The military uses a good publication for wingmen called ACE," Obenour said.

Broken down, the acronym ACE stands for ask, care and escort. The following defines what each component of the ACE program means:

· Asking involves posing queries that will help to gauge if the wingman is suicidal.

· Caring requires spending the time to listen to an individual showing signs of distress and deterring them from self-harm.

· Escorting is the process of physically accompanying the person to qualified and appropriate help. This may be a chaplain or DPH for example.

Those suffering with suicidal thoughts and depression do not always realize they need help right away, so it is important to let them know you're concerned.

"People suffering from depression are normally the last to know," Obenour said. "They don't see it. Loved ones may have to address it. Be direct, but gentle."

If you notice someone needs help, there are many resources available for military members and civilians. According to Obenour, the National Guard is also hiring a DPH for every Wing in order to promote good mental health and assess the mental health of its members.

"Most depression is treatable," Obenour said. "But it becomes worse the more you let it go and more complicated to treat."

If someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts, they can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Military OneSource is another resource which provides 24/7 support to military members by calling, 1-800-342-9647 or  online at If the threat of suicide is imminent, call 911.