Military News

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Face to Face

by Senior Airman Sean D. Smith
Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs

3/30/2015 - MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Air Force suicide prevention training is reverting from an electronic system to a face to face format.

"The annual suicide prevention training was a computer-based training that effectively standardized the information and made it readily available. However, the CBT format fell short of dealing with the issues of distress and suicide on a personal level," said 1st Lt. Paul Cotton, Suicide Prevention Program manager. "The Air Force Community Action Information Board addressed the limitations of the CBT by returning to a format consisting of vignette-based video and small group discussion focused on suicide prevention concepts."

The new approach is intended to benefit Airmen and their families by presenting the subject matter in a way that's relevant to everyone.

"I think it is a very good thing that we are going back to in-person training," said Col. Jane Holtzclaw, 5th Medical Group deputy commander. "It is all too easy to just click buttons on a CBT. And besides, this is a very sensitive topic, and there is no way that a CBT can do it justice."

A more personal approach to suicide prevention allows for discussion that can lead to new ideas, and a new level of awareness.

"The small group discussion is not intended to solely be an awareness raising activity or a lecture," Cotton said. "Rather, it is an opportunity for Airmen to both participate in the process of normalizing distress and reinforcing the wingman culture."

The training will attempt to counter common misconceptions about suicide as a topic, and ultimately to make Airmen feel more comfortable seeking help at early stages of distress.

"The stigma with mental health often prevents Airmen from seeking help, because they are usually concerned about the negative impact that seeking help will have on their career," Cotton said. "But we usually see the opposite effect because their performance improves; through therapy they begin to deal with the problems that are impacting their lives and work. In fact, research has indicated that 97 percent of Airmen who seek treatment at Air Force Mental Health Clinics suffer no negative career impact."

Reducing stigma and making training more personal is only the beginning; suicide prevention is really about changing the culture.

"Caring about your wingmen is the most critical element to suicide prevention. Caring means getting to know the people around you to develop a deeper sense of familiarity," Cotton said. "When a member knows another member well, it will be easily recognized when he or she is in distress. This level of familiarity reduces the discomfort of getting involved when people see their wingmen in trouble."

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