Air Force Suicide Prevention Program Dropping Suicide Rates
The US Air Force Suicide Prevention Program (AFSPP) has suggested that suicide rates have been reduced since the AFSPP launched its program in 1996, according to a new study that examined almost three decades of data.
In the study that examined suicide rates in the Air Force from 1981 to 2008, Kerry L. Knox, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center, found a reduction in the mean suicide rate after the implementation of the prevention program of about 21 percent that was consistent except for one year, 2004.
She called the AFSPP "the first long-term sustained effort of its kind to serve as an example of what communities can accomplish in reducing morbidity and mortality attributable to suicidal behaviors if there is ongoing commitment to do so."
This is good news for veterans since American military personnel are continuing to take their own lives in unprecedented numbers, as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wars continue. By late November 2009, at least 334 members of the armed forces had committed suicide in 2009, more than the 319 who were killed in Afghanistan or the 150 who died in Iraq. While a final figure is not available, the toll of military suicides last year was the worst since records began to be kept in 1980.
The suicide prevention is included in all military training. Commanders receive training on how and when to use mental health services, and their role in encouraging early help-seeking behavior. Trauma stress response teams were established worldwide to respond to traumatic incidents such as terrorist attacks, serious accidents, or suicide. These teams help personnel deal with the emotions they experience in reaction to traumatic incidents.
"It will be critical for clinicians who encounter returning military personnel to be trained to recognize the early risk factors and warning signs of suicidal behaviors, and specifically those associated with combat exposures," the researchers conclude. "The larger challenge for communities worldwide is whether the pervasive stigma associated with mental health disorders and psychosocial problems will be overcome as a result of acceptance that these significant, adverse mental health outcomes are a normal human response to the exposures associated with serving in the military."
The researchers note that the Air Force has achieved success in reducing suicide rates while there has been no reduction in overall suicide rates in the civilian population of the United States since the 1940s.