The Air Force saw a nearly 30% rise in suicides in 2019, but had been on pace for an even greater increase prior to a service-wide, one-day stand down.
According to officials, the Air Force lost 137 service members and civilians to suicide last year, up from 103 deaths in 2018.
Of the deaths, 84 were of active-component airmen, 14 were Guardsmen, 14 were Reservists and 24 were Air Force civilians. Men comprised 92% of the suicide deaths, and about 33% of victims had reportedly ended a relationship in the last three months before their deaths, according to Air Force Times.
Although the total number of airmen lost to suicide increased, the Air National Guard’s figure dropped by three from 2018 to 2019.
Officials said the service had been on pace to lose 150 to 160 airmen to suicide as of August, when Air Force leaders called for every wing to conduct a one-day stand down to focus on suicide prevention and resiliency programs. After the stand down, the rate of airmen suicides dropped from 13 deaths per month to about five, according to the San Antonio Express News.
During the stand down, units broke airmen into small groups which discussed the problem of suicide and the importance of seeking mental health help.
Meanwhile, senior leaders assured airmen that seeking help is a sign of strength rather than weakness. An article on the stand down and the Guard’s efforts to combat suicides was featured in the November 2019 edition of NATIONAL GUARD.
Air Force leaders said they are continuing to look for prevention strategies and opportunities to increase the force’s resilience.
“Suicide is a difficult national problem without easily identifiable solutions that has the full attention of leadership,” Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, the deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, told Air Force Times.