Something good, something profoundly beneficial is going on at Robins Air Force Base.
At a time when other service branches and military installations are struggling with a record number of suicides, Robins has seen its total go down.
In 2008, the local base experienced a record eight suicides. That spurred an intense, self-examination. From that deep, inward look came a slogan – “You Matter” – and a push to involve everyone in suicide prevention.
Officials are reluctant to credit the campaign for reducing suicides, but something has happened. Suicides dropped to four in 2009 and to three last year.
Maj. Colin Burchfield, director of psychological health at Robins, said the “You Matter” campaign has several approaches.
“It continues to instill the message that each individual has value … and the importance they bring daily to the lives of others around them,” he said. “It also promotes the perspective that ‘You Matter’ – whether you are someone considering suicide or you could be a shoulder to lean on or an ear to bend.”
Communications and personal involvement are the heart of the effort. “You Matter” flyers are visible across the vast installation where some 25,000 people come to work each day. The flyers list suicidal symptoms and contact information for people in distress. The base Web site links to additional information and resources.
A new walk-about approach focuses on workplace contacts seeking volunteers for what is known as “peer resiliency support training.”
“That’s an in-depth, half-day training to enhance their ability to recognize and effectively intervene with their peers who may be suffering from emotional distress due to a variety of life problems,” Burchfield said. “It’s built upon skills first learned during annual suicide prevention training and various professional military education activities.”
The clinical psychologist said the course is based on the reality that suicides are not prevented in the hospital emergency room but through daily interaction among peers and friends.
“People (with daily contact) are the ones most capable of assessing dynamic changes in the quality of life,” he said. “They provide a first response to emerging issues and a ready relay to helping agency resources.”
Recent visits from the Rand Corporation and the Defense Department task force on suicide prevention have added some tweaks to “You Matter.”
Anecdotal evidence suggests that Robins workers have embraced the campaign. Helping agencies on base are receiving more requests and the base central appointments line is busier.
“We are hopeful that these outreach and educational efforts continue to save lives,” Burchfield said, “and we continue to see a reduction in suicides at Robins.”