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Air Force Members At MacDill Pausing To Talk About Mental Health Amid National Increase In Suicides

Sep 12, 2019

Airmen at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa are taking a break from their normal duties Friday. Instead, they will reflect on mental health.

U.S. Air Force leadership mandated that all bases around the country take what’s known as a “resiliency tactical pause” because of a dramatic increase in suicides.

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Members of the 6th Air Mobility Wing will break down into small groups to share their experiences with mental health issues and get to know each other better through team-building activities.

“To build interpersonal connection and really foster a climate that encourages and empowers others to seek help when they need it,” explained Leigh McCall, the wing’s Violence Prevention Integrator.

“And then also for people to be able to identify within themselves and others what are risk factors, what are warning signs, what do we do in the event that somebody is in distress or we are in distress?”

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About 80 airmen have died by suicide so far this year, a number much higher than last year, and Air Force leaders have said they don't understand the spike.

McCall said part of the reason they required personnel to take this day is to get feedback from airmen about how to better support their needs.

Sometimes service members are afraid to admit they have mental health problems because they don't want it to hurt their career.

McCall tells airmen that she works with that speaking up could have the opposite effect.

"Because if you go and get help that's going to subsequently improve your quality of life, which can have that domino effect, and improve the climate you’re working in and make you more productive, make the team more productive, make the mission more productive," she said.  

WUSF’s weekly American Homefront segment takes a deeper look at how the Air Force is trying to prevent suicides. You can check out the story here, or listen Friday at 7:44 a.m. and 5:44 p.m. on WUSF 89.7.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or struggling, help is available 24 hours a day by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or by dialing 211.