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Building a connection culture: understanding suicide myths

The myths associated with mental health can often be dangerous, as they create stereotypes and stigmas harmful to those who live with mental illness or thoughts of harming themselves. By learning the facts, Airmen can better care for their Wingmen and increase their chances of recognizing someone in need. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Airman Amanda Lovelace)

The myths associated with mental health can often be dangerous, as they create stereotypes and stigmas harmful to those who live with mental illness or thoughts of harming themselves. By learning the facts, Airmen can better care for their Wingmen and increase their chances of recognizing someone in need. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Airman Amanda Lovelace)

Airmen who are struggling with their mental health are encouraged to seek help by utilizing a helping agency. If in an emergency or crisis, call the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. To make an appointment with the mental health clinic, call 719-526-2273. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Airman 1st Class Corey Hook)

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Airmen who are struggling with their mental health are encouraged to seek help by utilizing a helping agency. If in an emergency or crisis, call the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. To make an appointment with the mental health clinic, call 719-526-2273. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Airman 1st Class Corey Hook)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

It’s the feeling of drowning and having no help, the feeling of being alone when surrounded by others – it’s mental illness and it’s surrounded by myths.

Myths associated with mental health can often be dangerous. The stereotypes and stigmas are harmful to those who live with mental illness or thoughts of harming themselves. These factors can lead some to believe there are consequences with getting help.

 “Myths can be harmful and being able to challenge things, ask questions and have real conversations about a difficult topic is the way we change those myths,” said Maj. Jessica Ditson, 50th Mission Support Group individual mobilization augmentee to the commander and Schriever violence prevention integrator.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., which is why September is recognized as Suicide Prevention Month.

“Suicide is a problem that doesn’t discriminate,” said Maj. Louis Pagano, 21st Medical Squadron director of psychological health. “It can affect people of all ages and of any gender. It’s a silent problem for a lot of people. We need to create and cultivate an environment where people are OK with sharing how they feel because they don’t always feel comfortable discussing it or seeking care.”

Pagano said major risk factors include life transitions, dramatic changes in behavior, legal, financial and relationship distress, engaging in risky behavior, making preparations for death and substance abuse. Additionally, Pagano said it is important to treat mental health with the same urgency as physical health.

“It’s really hard to predict who will end their life by suicide,” Pagano said. “It’s important we move away from thinking ‘the only people who end their lives by suicide are overtly depressed.’ Sometimes, there’s a lot of stuff inside that people are hiding and won’t share that we won’t know about unless we ask them.”

Airmen who are struggling with mental health are encouraged to seek help by utilizing a helping agency. Ditson said one way to mitigate mental health issues and hopefully lower the suicide rate is by building connections with others, something everyone is capable of doing.

“Oftentimes, the more you try to avoid, control or suppress what’s going on, at best, it may stay the same, but for many people it gets worse,” Pagano said. “Things typically don’t get better when you avoid them.”

Another common myth is that Airmen will lose their clearance for seeking any sort of mental health assistance.

“The majority of people with clearances who seek mental health care do not see any negative impact on their career [Air Force wide],” Pagano said. “Airmen should be concerned about their clearances, but they shouldn’t be concerned for mental health reasons. It is true that mental health can make recommendations to change security clearances for certain members, but by and large that’s very rare.”

Pagano said another common myth associated with suicide is it’s most likely to occur during the holiday months, but in actuality there is an increase in suicides during springtime. This is why it’s important Airmen genuinely check on each other and not just to check a box.

“There’s this idea of duality that the mind and brain are separate,” Pagano said. “The mind and the body are one and the same. Treating your physical health will make your mental health better and treating your mental health will make your physical health better. Thoughts, feelings, behaviors and physical experiences are all complexly interrelated with one another, you can’t just avoid one or there will be a cascade or chain effect.”

If in an emergency or crisis, call the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.

To make an appointment with the mental health clinic, call 719-526-2273.

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