Prevention Program Linked to Fewer Air Force Suicides

May 25, 2010 By Randy Dotinga

A new study links the U.S. Air Force’s extensive suicide prevention program to a major drop in the military branch’s suicide rate since the mid-1990s.

The report, a follow-up to a 2003 study, reveals that a decline of about 21 percent held up from 1998 through 2008 with the exception of one year.

The findings show that “it’s possible to reduce deaths from suicide and to do it over a period of years,” said study lead author Kerry Knox, an associate professor of at the University of Rochester.

The Air Force began putting its suicide prevention program into place in 1996 amid concern about a rising suicide rate. Among other things, the program aims to remove the stigma from those who seek help for .

The message, Knox said, is that “getting help is a sign of strength,” and “it’s not going to hurt your career if you get help early.”

The study appears in the August issue of the .The researchers found that for every 100,000 service members, the suicide rate dropped from 17 suicides per year before the program to a rate of 5.6 suicides during the program.

The actual number of suicides fell from a high of 68 suicides a year in 1994 before the program to a low of 20 suicides per year in 1999 following the program. The Air Force has about 335,000 service members currently.

In 2004, the suicide rate did spike to a level beyond 13.1 per 100,000 service members, or 49 suicides. However, the rate dipped after that year to levels similar to those seen following the initial implementation of the program.

It is hard to know how to explain the brief increase in suicide, Knox said, but it might have something to do with the pressures of two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) at the time and “implementation ” that could have disrupted the suicide prevention program. However, Knox said the later reinforced the program.

The study does not prove that the prevention program is responsible for a lower rate. Still, there is plenty to suggest that it did and made a “significant” difference, Knox said.

David Segal, a director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Research on Military Organization, said the study findings are “very convincing” and suggest that the Air Force's prevention program is indeed having a significant influence.

“They’ve made significant efforts to destigmatize seeking mental health help,” Segal said. “That has been a big problem in the military culture. In that culture, seeking the help of a psychiatrist or psychologist has been a sign of weakness, and if you want a successful career you don’t do that.”

Explore further: Subconscious learning shapes pain responses

More information: Knox KL, et al. The US Air Force Suicide Prevention Program: implications for public health policy. Am J Public Health 100(7), 2010.

Related Stories

Suicide spikes for U.S. middle-aged

Feb 19, 2008

A five-year study on suicide in the United States found a 20 percent increase in the suicide rate among 45-to-54-year-olds, out-pacing any other age group.

Young ex-servicemen at increased risk of suicide

Mar 02, 2009

Young men who have served in the British Armed Forces are up to three times more likely to take their own lives than their civilian counterparts, research published tomorrow (March 3) has found.

UK teen suicide rates on the decline

Oct 23, 2008

Suicide rates in those aged 10-19 in the UK declined by 28% in the seven year period from 1997-2003, shows a study published today in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. The study, carried out by researchers at the ...

Russian speakers top suicide list

Jun 22, 2007

Demographers have determined that Russian language speakers are more likely to commit suicide than any other group in the world.

Recommended for you

Subconscious learning shapes pain responses

May 22, 2015

In a new study led from Sweden's Karolinska Institutet, researchers report that people can be conditioned to associate images with particular pain responses – such as improved tolerance to pain – even ...

All sounds made equal in melancholy

May 22, 2015

The room is loud with chatter. Glasses clink. Soft music, perhaps light jazz or strings, fills the air. Amidst all of these background sounds, it can be difficult to understand what an adjacent person is ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet May 28, 2010
I think you need to recheck the data. The month of May 2010 had 4 suicides in the Air Force, one of which was my son, A1C Austin Harper Gates Benson, who was stationed in the Kyber Pass Afghanastan.
We support the Air Force and all their Airmen, we just believe there is a much bigger problem then is being talked about and a story like the above one with out dated information, might mislead the public into believing they actually have a real grasp on the situation.
not rated yet May 28, 2010
I'd also like to state current White House Policy is that the President does not send condolence letters to the parents or family of soldiers that are killed by suicide. Not since the Carter administration.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.