‘Resiliency’ Efforts Run up Against Busy AF
by Markeshia Ricks
May 4, 2012
More airmen killed themselves in the first three months of this year than in any other first quarter in the past decade.
The spike in suicides comes amid an intensive campaign to improve airmen’s “resiliency” — and the rollout of the service’s new Comprehensive Airman Fitness program, which focuses on physical, social, mental and spiritual fitness.
Though not billed as a suicide prevention program, the Air Force program is modeled after the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, designed to combat daily stresses that can lead to drinking problems, failed marriages and suicidal thoughts.
But airmen say the focus on resiliency alone cannot address the complicated problem of suicide. They blame being overworked, stressed about their futures and tired of doing more with less.
The statistics back up their arguments: Two of the busiest groups of airmen — security forces and maintainers — have been hardest hit by suicide. Since 2009, 19 percent of airmen who killed themselves were security forces members, yet they make up only 8 percent of the total force; 22 percent of suicides were maintainers, who make up about 16 percent of the force.
The Air Force knows these airmen are at greater risk because they do shift work that disrupts their sleep patterns and takes them away from supportive relationships with family and friends, said Maj. Michael McCarthy, the Air Force Suicide Prevention Program manager. Airmen who have financial, legal and relationship problems are also at risk of suicide.
“When you factor [suicides in these career fields] out, the Air Force’s rate of suicide is really quite low,” McCarthy said. “The problem is that the vast majority of people who have relationship problems and legal problems and financial problems don’t die by suicide,” McCarthy said. “Having those risk factors doesn’t say for certain that this is the guy who is going to do it.”
And though maintainers and security forces airmen tend to deploy often, McCarthy said frequent deployments aren’t a risk factor for the Air Force. In fact, deployment is associated with reduced risk of suicide.
… we need to continue to build resilience into our airmen to better deal with the crises that life presents to all of us — Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz
“People who deploy are deemed to be healthy,” he said. “That means you’re not going to be someone who has a lot of health problems … or who has a failed family health care plan. You’ve got the ability to take care of your dependents.
“Our deployers are healthy folks,” McCarthy said.
That’s because deployed airmen live and work in close quarters with a tight-knit group of people who will know if someone in their unit is struggling with his job, finances or marriage, McCarthy said.
FIGHTING A DIFFERENT ENEMY
In the mid-2000s, the number of suicides began growing at an alarming rate in all the services. When compared with the Army and the Marine Corps, the Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard’s rates have remained relatively low.
Since 2000, the number of suicides in the Air Force has ebbed and flowed, with a low of 29 in 2002 and a record high of 54 in 2010. Since 2008, there have been at least 40 Air Force suicides every year.
Now the Air Force is trying to stave off another record year.
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Filed under: Resources Tagged: | Afghanistan, Air Force, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Roy, Comprehensive Airman Fitness, Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, Deployment, Depression, Iraq, Mental Health, Military, Military Family, Military Suicide, PTSD, Stigma, Stress, Suicide, Suicide prevention, War, Warrior Resilience Conference