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Home : News : News
NEWS | July 29, 2010

Program raises suicide awareness

By Mike Joseph 502nd Air Base Wing OL-A Public Affairs

Participants had high praise for a Lackland training program that teaches skills to recognize potential suicide signs.

SafeTALK (Suicide Alertness for Everyone; Tell, Ask, Listen, and KeepSafe), a suicide prevention awareness program, helps develop the ability to recognize and engage persons who might have suicidal thoughts, and to connect them with community resources specializing in suicide prevention.

"The Chief of Chaplains sees it as a priority in the spiritual care for Airmen," said Chaplain (Maj.) Stephen Allen, permanent party branch chief and certified safeTALK trainer.

He said chaplains are involved in suicide prevention programs to provide spiritual care.

One specific area in that care is offering hope since most having suicidal thoughts experience a sense of hopelessness.

Two attendees from a recent safeTALK training session were impressed with the course.

"The training was exceptional; everyone should have it," said Master Sgt. Thomas Petterson, 59th Orthopedic Squadron, additional duty first sergeant. "It covers the topic in a non-threatening and practical manner. I think it would help lower the number of suicides because it makes you think about the people who wouldn't seem like the type to do it."

Clara Brideforth, basic military training Pentecostal religious education, agreed. She said the course was enlightening and advocated starting it in BMT to increase awareness.

The interactive safeTALK training includes visual aides and small group scenarios, and takes about four hours, said Chaplain (Capt.) Jonathan Hurt, permanent party chaplain staff. Time is allotted for group discussion because of the difficulty most people have talking about suicide.

In addition to raising intervention awareness, the training gives participants skills on how to recognize potential warning signs, to communicate confidently and help make connections to professional resources for help.

"There's a fear factor that this course can help people overcome so they feel confident enough to help someone," Chaplain Hurt said. "The course makes people comfortable in talking about the subject.

"We want to help Airmen understand, to take the stigmas out of asking or recognizing those who may be thinking about suicide. The more we have trained to recognize and observe the warning signs in co-workers, family and friends, the better."

The Air Force has been a leader in suicide prevention for nearly 15 years. With suicide rates peaking higher than 16 per 100,000 active-duty Airmen in the mid-1990s, the service established a suicide prevention program built on fostering a sense of community and identifying problems before Airmen became suicidal. The preventative measures helped drop rates below 6 by the end of the '90s.

Gen. William Fraser III, former Air Force vice chief of staff, testified before a House of Representatives subcommittee last year on Air Force suicide prevention programs, telling Congressmen "we recognize that even one suicide is too many."

For more information about safeTALK training, call Freedom Chapel at 671-4208 or e-mail Chaplains Hurt or Allen. The training is open to all base personnel.