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Reducing Suicide: A National Imperative
psychiatric elements. The Air Force suicide prevention program therefore targets both suicide risk reduction and mental and behavioral health promotion, goals that concur with those of the United Nations and the World Health Organization recommendations (United Nations, 1996). Primary aspects of the LINK strategy include encouraging early mental health intervention and offering coordinated services among agencies, normalizing help-seeking behavior, and increasing protective factors such as social connectedness, support, and effective coping skills (USAFMS, 2000). Further, the Air Force has implemented suicide awareness training for staff, changed certain Air Force policies in response to epidemiological research, and developed a database for collecting a broad array of information regarding suicide attempts and completions throughout Air Force personnel and their families.
The Air Force has aggressively pursued increasing community awareness of suicide risks and available services and decreasing the stigma surrounding accessing mental health services. Senior Air Force staff reinforce the perspective that suicide prevention is a community effort and regularly distribute notices to personnel regarding the problem of suicide within the Air Force (USAFMS, 2000). Regular staff development courses have also now incorporated suicide prevention education for all officers. Such training describes the risk and protective factors for suicide, including contexts and symptoms of acute suicide risk, and when and to whom to refer individuals at risk of suicide. Further, LINK espouses establishing “buddy care,” in which everyone is encouraged to look out for others within the community. Enhancing the mental well-being of the entire unit is therefore conveyed as each staff member’s responsibility. Supervisors and unit members alike are encouraged to persuade those facing mental health issues (including substance abuse and domestic violence) to self-refer to services. The Air Force presents such actions as a means of increasing unit productivity and helping the individual reach his or her fullest potential, and explicitly states these goals as motivation for commander-directed mental health evaluations when individuals do not self-refer (USAFMS, 2000). After reviewing personnel surveys regarding behavioral health concerns, the Air Force has recently expanded its education program to include violence and homicide risk (Staal, 2001).
Given the research on overlapping risk factors for suicidality, the Air Force recognized a need to coordinate its mental health and social services. The suicide prevention program established a collaboration among six agencies: chaplains, child and youth programs, family advocacy, family support, health promotion/health and wellness centers, and mental health clinics. This Integrated Delivery System oversees and organizes overlapping suicide prevention efforts while maintaining individual agencies’ unique missions. The Delivery System therefore offers its services at