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MacDill Air Force Base pauses for a day to address rising number of suicides in the Air Force

MacDill Air Force Base will observe a full-day, "resilience tactical pause'' Friday to address a growing number of suicides in the Air Force. Airmen will participate in team-building activities and small-group discussions on mental health. This is happening at military bases across the U.S. .

The work day at MacDill Air Force Base became much more personal Friday when members of the 6th Air Mobility Wing observed a full-day “pause” to address the growing number of airmen dying by suicide.

Already this year, at least 78 airmen nationwide have taken their own lives. That’s up by more than 50 percent compared to the same period in 2018, and officials fear the total could grow to 150 or more by year’s end.

“We lose more airmen to suicide than any other single enemy — even more than combat,” Kaleth Wright, the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, said earlier this year.

In an effort to promote suicide prevention resources on base, top Air Force brass directed wing commanders across the U.S. to take a “resilience tactical pause” day before Sept. 15. Wings were provided resources for the day but could determine for themselves how to run things.

“The Resiliency Tactical Pause is not a one and done effort,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in a statement. “We must take the time to listen, connect and address the issues that are shifting our teammates’ outlook from hopeful to hopeless.”

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At MacDill’s pause on Friday, airmen participated in team-building activities and were asked to open up about stressors and their mental health needs, said Leigh McCall, a member of the base’s Integrated Resiliency Office.

They also broke into small group discussions focusing on life’s purpose and meaning as well as what constitutes mental fitness. One of the biggest goals of the pause is to collect feedback that will help the Air Force personalize resources on and off base as well as future wellness events.

“One suicide for us is too many,” McCall said.

In 2017, the rate of suicides within the Air Force was estimated to be 19.3 per 100,000 population, according to a Department of Defense report. Service members who take their own lives are most often white, between the ages of 20 and 24, of low rank and with less than a college education, the report says.

Stressors that are often present in suicide cases in all branches of the military include family issues, legal or administrative problems and abuse.

Airmen at MacDill have access to military and family life counselors, a chaplain, a military crisis line and the Resiliency Office. The base partners with the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay to offer additional resources.

The 927th Air Refueling Wing, a reserve wing which also operates out of MacDill, addressed suicide prevention last weekend. The Department of Defense found in 2017 that the rate of suicide among reserve components across the military was higher than among active-duty members — 25.7 per 100,000 population.

During the 927th’s commander call, Vice Commander Col. Andrew Stephan shared his past personal struggles, opening up about the help he sought to overcome them. He also called on members to fill out anonymous index cards detailing the stressors they face to better tailor meetings planned for the rest of the year.

NEED HELP: If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, reach out to the 24–hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255; contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741; or chat with someone online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org. The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay can be reached by dialing 2-1-1 or by visiting crisiscenter.com. Contact the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, then press 1, or access online chat by texting 838255.

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© 2019 the Tampa Bay Times