Suicidal Prevention Practices at Sheppard

Military suicides are increasing at a startling pace. Just this year, 20 soldiers committed suicides at Fort Hood. From January to August, 125 active members of the army ended their lives statewide.

To help discover the cracks in the system, the Department of Defense Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide studied the military's preventative efforts.

Sheppard Air Force Base is also working to improve the system and recognize risky behavior before an airman gets hurt.

"Two thirds of suicides occur within those who have never been to a mental health clinic," said Capt. Kieran Dhyllon-Davis, the Director of Psychological Health. "But I guarantee you that they have been to work, and so the best place to intervene and to provide prevention and outreach is at the unit level."

Outreach is one of the main focuses for Capt. Dhyllon-Davis and the rest of the mental health team at Sheppard Air Force Base.

Especially after the huge increase in suicide rates in the military.

For solders in Texas under the age of 35, the suicide rates of 2009 went up by 40% from the rate in 2006.

According to the Department of Defense Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide, one of the reasons for the high mortality rates is the number if deployment rates for a single serviceman. The task force also noted the stress related to a nearly decade old war.

In fact, Army Major General Philip Volpe said that "this is a unique time. Nowhere before in our history did people have to deploy over and over again."

Understanding the stresses, Capt. Dhyllon-Davis and her team work to make sure that those coming from Sheppard are safe and mentally sound.

"We screen people before they deploy and then after they deploy," said Capt. Dhyllon-Davis, "There is actually not going to be a time period where you're not being screened by mental health in between deployments, so we're constantly evaluating our servicemen to make sure that they are doing ok."

Yet seeing a mental health professional still has it's stigmas and some mistakenly believe that their military career will be over if they seek help.

"A lot of people are concerned about career impact when they utilize mental health care and if we make it more acceptable, more streamlined, that getting mental health care is not going to harm your career then it's going to make it more of an option for someone to use when they are in trouble," said Capt. Dhyllon-Davis.

One of the major operations at Sheppard is the installation of the wingman culture. This mindset offers that everyone is responsible for the safety and stability of their fellow airman.

"We've got to get individuals within every unit to be screeners, to be experts, to be helpers, to look out for each other," said Capt.Dhyllon-Davis. "That's the point of the wingman concept, to take care of our people, to look out for each other, to know that it's ok to go and talk to somebody, be it just a friend, or a mental health professional, but just instill that in our culture that it's ok."

Airmen at Sheppard are also armed with a card, reminding them to be a good wingman. The card also gives tools and some say the courage to save a life.

Mental health professionals at Sheppard are also looking to expand outreach efforts and are in the planning stages to promote an "Out of the Darkness" walk later this year.

For those who are suicidal, Sheppard Air Force base gives out the 24 hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Military personnel as well as civilians can call 800-273-TALK (8255).

Mary Moloney, Newschannel 6