AFMC enhances leadership support for suicide prevention
U.S. Air Force Maj. John Doleski, 17th Medical Group mental health flight commander, discusses the importance of mental health treatment with one of the technicians at the Ross Clinic on Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, April 19, 2021. Doleski strived to dispel the stigma around seeking mental health treatment within the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Michael Bowman)
The Department of the Air Force Suicide Prevention Strategic Model views comprehensive suicide prevention through four key focus areas: connect, detect, protect and equip.
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — With the right contacts, tools and resources, a person can do just about anything.
At the Air Force Materiel Command, a new initiative aims to better prepare leaders to develop more resilient Airmen and support suicide prevention activities across the mission.
In a memo issued this month, Lt. Gen. Carl Schaefer, AFMC Deputy Commander, established a 30-day window for a new leaders to conduct an immersion with their local installation Violence Prevention Integrator (VPI) focused on suicide prevention. The immersions will equip leaders with the tools and resources to foster cohesive, connected unit cultures and more resilient Airmen.
“Leaders play a critical role in suicide prevention and response, and we’re taking extra steps to ensure they understand their role and the resources available to support them,” said Schaefer. “Losing a member to suicide always has a significant impact on a unit. We need to surround our leaders with the support structures to help prevent suicide and provide all the required resources, if an unfortunate event occurs.”
The immersions will provide an opportunity for leaders to learn of the various installation support agencies and will include an overview of current messaging, prevention and intervention resources, annual by-law training requirements and more. Leaders will work directly with their installation VPI and local providers, establishing key relationships that will carry through their leadership service term.
“During a crisis, leaders will work side-by-side with the support agencies, which is why the early immersion is so critical,” said Mike Owens, AFMC Violence Prevention Program Manager. “When leaders know where to go for help and support, response times are shortened, and recovery can begin.”
Leadership support and engagement is an essential element of the Air Force Suicide Prevention Program. The AFMC Integrated Prevention and Resilience office facilitates the implementation of the Air Force program for the command, with the immersions an extra step to ensure leaders understand their roles in suicide prevention and are equipped with the right resources in the event of a crisis.
“These immersions will support leaders to foster an AFMC culture of resilience and connectedness that encourages personnel to seek help early” said Owens.
To supplement the information provided during the immersions, AFMC has expanded the resources available in the “Leadership Toolbox” on the command instance of the USAF Connect mobile app. This toolbox contains links to checklists, guides and resources to assist leaders in working through challenging events with their teams.
The toolbox also contains the AFMC Leaders Post-Suicide Checklist which provides guidance for leaders following a suicide event. As a supplement to local policy, it incorporates “lessons learned” from others who have experienced suicide deaths in their own units.
“Postvention efforts are intended to provide everyone who is exposed to a loss by suicide with immediate and long-term support. These efforts are vital to overcoming the loss and include providing individual and collective opportunities for healthy grieving,” said Owens. “The checklist helps leaders as they actively work with the members of their teams to respond to the event and overcome challenges as they begin the process of recovery.”
The recent changes are part of a continued focus on driving greater resiliency in AFMC Airmen and to help reduce instances of suicide across the service.
Additional information on Air Force-wide resiliency programs is available in Air Force Instruction 90-5001, Integrated Resilience. AFMC Airmen can visit the AFMC Connect website for local resiliency resources and trainings support.
“We’re taking deliberate action to address the crucial role leadership plays in resiliency and suicide prevention. Strong, resilient Airmen and leaders are key to the AFMC We Need,” said Schaefer.