OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea --
The Department of Defense recognizes September as Suicide Awareness Month. This time acknowledges and provides a way to mitigate the emotional difficulties of military service members.
Osan’s violence prevention team is finding ways to reach out to the Airmen who need them, keeping with the current motto of “Connect to Protect.”
“We provide briefings, training, and education for violence related issues across the board to active-duty Airmen as well as civilians,” said L. Diane Heard, violence prevention integrator and suicide prevention program manager.
In order to connect with as many Airmen as possible, the suicide prevention program hosts a variety of services that can assist Airmen struggling with their mental health.
One such program is inTransition. This is a free and confidential call-in program offering specialized coaching and assistance for all service members who need access to a new mental health provider or are seeking assistance for the first time.
Military OneSource also provides counseling services to Airmen as well as their families. These counseling services can be done in person, over phone or through online video calls. Military OneSource can be reached through their online chat service, website and/or app.
The “Give An Hour” program provides Airmen the opportunity to connect to mental health professionals and volunteers across the United States who provide free counseling.
“There are a number of services out there. You have military and family life counselors, you have mental health flight, you have chaplains, and so much more,” said Heard. “We’ll keep trying until we find the service that works for you.”
To reach as many Airmen in need as possible, the suicide prevention program also relies on the assistance of volunteers to help spread the word to more isolated areas of the base. One such location is the flight line.
“The flight line can feel separated from the rest of the base, so I reach out and provide counsel to those airmen in an environment they’re comfortable in,” said Tech. Sgt. Derek Brown, 51st Munitions Squadron armament cast chief and violence prevention volunteer.
Brown trained in wingman intervention and suicide prevention techniques, so he could assist the suicide prevention program in helping those in need and educating his fellow Airmen in how to address their mental health concerns.
“We have our four pillars of wellness in the Air Force; physical, mental, spiritual, and social,” said Brown. “And positive mental health contributes directly to at least three of them.”
Getting mental health information out to Airmen in need is not the only challenge the suicide prevention program faces. They also have to change the current cultural outlook on mental health and remove the stigma surrounding seeking help for it.
“We are trying to make seeking services and help a normal thing to do,” said Heard. “You have individuals out there struggling that have been taught that they should be able to handle it on their own.”
The cultural stigma for seeking help from mental health aid is not the only challenge the suicide prevention program faces. There’s also the fear many Airmen have of negative career repercussions for seeking mental health.
“That’s a common misconception, that if you seek mental health your career is over,” said Heard. “It’s not going to be detrimental to your well-being to seek mental help.”
Another challenge is getting Airmen to overcome the bystander effect and help out their fellow Airmen.
“Looking out for your mental health as well as your fellow Airman’s can be a matter of life or death,” said Brown.
Being an Airman can present unique challenges with unique stressors that might feel unmanageable and overwhelming, but the suicide prevention program is here to help.
“Help is available. There’s nothing wrong with seeking help,” said Heard. “It takes strength to say ‘I need help’.”
The military crisis line is available at www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/.