ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE – Maybe the two-year long “You Matter” campaign is paying off. Something is.
Robins Air Force Base, rocked with eight suicides in 2008, has seen that number drop to four last year … and to an edgy, hopeful zero so far in 2010.
Suicides are a major concern throughout America’s armed forces. The Army reported 160 suspected suicides among its active duty soldiers last year. The Navy had 47; the Marines, 42; and the Air Force 34.
The Army, in an April press release, said it is launching a massive survey of its people and reviewing some 600 programs that relate to “health promotion, risk reduction and suicide prevention” to give commanders the best tools “to address key issues that cause behavioral concerns.”
Suicide is a problem throughout society. Failing relationships, financial concerns and a number of other factors often contribute. Military people are subject to those same issues plus the potentially gut-wrenching impact of continuing deployments, family separation, combat stress and may others.
Capt. Anthony Wilson, a clinical social worker at Robins, said he and his colleagues would love to take credit for the zero suicides so far this year.
“But all we can do is make sure we are doing everything we can every day to be helpful and get the word out that we as a community can make a difference,” he stressed. “We can make a difference – an impact – by asking how people are and making sure they know where to go to get help.”
The base’s “You Matter” campaign draws its focus from the Air Force’s “wingman concept” – the idea that suicides are not prevented in hospital emergency rooms but in day-to-day relationships, people reaching out to others, expressing concern, lending assistance.
For the 25,000 people who work on base each day – including some 6,500 military – the goal has been to make sure they know the agencies and resources available to them and to encourage workers to access those options before they reach an emotional crisis.
Wilson said the Air Force tries to be consistent in its care for people but each year presents a different mix of circumstances.
“It’s hard to compare one year to the next,” he conceded. “Unfortunately, the people who took their lives in 2008 were not the ones who took their lives in 2009. So we don’t know the differences and the “whys” because each situation is different.”