Air Force Creates Suicide Prevention Training for Families

The Department of the Air Force has released its first-ever video-based suicide prevention training for USAF and Space Force families.

The online course, entitled “Equipping Family Members to Help Airmen in Distress,” educates viewers on different ways they can intervene and how to access resources at their disposal, according to a release. It also emphasizes proactive ways to foster resilience—such as eating right, building strong relationships with friends and relatives, and cultivating spirituality.

The department has created two separate training tracks—a self-paced one for solo viewers and a small-group one meant to be led by a facilitator—as well as complementary PDF-based guides with follow-on questions for personal reflection or discussion, supportive resources, and more. 

Key spouses may also complete the course in order to meet their yearly suicide prevention training requirement, the release states.

“The Department of the Air Force knows the importance of resilience and taking care of families, who are often the first to sense distress in their Airmen,” Air Force Integrated Resilience Director Brig. Gen. Claude K. Tudor Jr. said in the release. “They are also the key to finding potential solutions to prevent suicide and other issues associated with interpersonal and self-directed violence. By developing this inaugural family-based suicide prevention training, we are also enhancing the overall human performance of the family unit. This ultimately keeps our Airmen and Space Professionals mission-ready for whatever our nation requires us to do.”

Educating families on the signs of suicidal thoughts and how to get help is “just as important” as the annual suicide-prevention trainings that troops receive, Air Force Suicide Prevention Program Manager Maj. Jordan Simonson said in the release.

The video is meant to complement last year’s Resilience Tactical Pause, which aimed to give units across the Total Force a chance to halt operations, check in on their Airmen, and address issues of suicide prevention and resilience in the wake of record-high suicides among service members.

Despite the force-wide standdown, however, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. recently said the service is on pace to match last year’s level of suicides in 2020.

The video training announcement came just over a week after the Defense Department released new data on suicide’s impact on U.S. military service members and their families.

The report said that 111 Airmen took their own lives in 2019—which was, notably, lower than the 137 estimate that was shared via an Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page post in February and confirmed by the service at the time. This reflects a 38.75 percent jump in total incidents over the year prior. 

The same report shared data on suicides among military family members in 2018, though it didn’t provide service-specific breakdowns.

According to its findings, a total of 193 military family members—128 of whom were spouses and 65 of whom were children—took their own lives that year, resulting in an overall suicide rate of 7.1 percent. Though the military family member suicide rate increased from 2017 to 2018, it wasn’t a statistically significant jump, DOD noted in a presentation about the report.