SCHRIEVER SPACE FORCE BASE, Colo. --
Thoughts of self-harm can indicate deep, underlying issues that should not be dismissed. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month: a time to raise awareness of this serious but stigmatized topic. In an effort to shift public perception, September is utilized to spread information and give hope to those tragically affected by suicide.
“We talk a lot about our interventions as if they were prevention,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jessica Ditson, Peterson-Schriever Garrison violence prevention integrator. “However, intervention is anytime you are involved with someone who is actively in crisis, and you’re trying to guide them to help or support services. Prevention is more skill-based ‘to the left’ of the issue. Creating connection and increasing someone’s feeling of belonging are two prevention factors for suicide.”
Air Force active duty suicide rates increased in 2019, the largest affected demographic being single men between 23 and 30 years old, within the ranks of Airmen. Since 2015, personally owned firearms have been involved in over 70% of Air Force suicides. To combat suicide statistics, the Air Force established five primary prevention priorities in 2021: building connections, detecting risk, promoting protective environments, and equipping our Airmen and their families.
“Connectedness will always be one of the big factors,” said Ditson. “[Letting Airmen know] that they belong, that they matter and that they’re important removes the element of feeling burdensome, which is a risk factor for suicide.”
This month will begin with a presentation to the Peterson-Schriever Garrison’s fire fighters, medical technicians, and defenders by Amy Morgan, the founder and CEO of Academy Hour, an organization that specializes in supportive mental health education for first responders.
“It will be a two-hour presentation on trauma and suicide,” said Ditson. “We know that our first responders are exposed to a lot of first-hand and vicarious trauma,”
Other activities will include a Caring Card Campaign, and challenge days on Sept. 8 and 9.
“We did [challenge days] in 2019,” said Ditson. “We had a group come in and do a workshop on communication bias recognition. Anything that impacts connection impacts suicide. When we talk about true prevention vs. intervention, anything that is impacting connection can be qualified as suicide prevention.”
The beginning of the Caring Card Campaign is scheduled for Sept. 28 at 8a.m. at the Peterson Chapel.
“We are going to be writing letters of encouragement and validation to people and leave them in places where they can be found,” said Ditson. “Then we will be distributing them throughout the remainder of September and into October, because October and May are actually statistically the months for the highest completed suicides.”
Creating caring cards is open to everyone across the Garrison. “If anyone would like to help write the cards they can contact myself or Ms. Ditson,” said Michel Cremeans, P-S GAR violence prevention integrator. “We will also be taking requests for people to help pass them out.”
Additionally, the garrison hosts Heartbeat Survivors after Suicide, a peer support group for those who have lost a loved one to suicide.
“We have in-person monthly meetings on Peterson,” said Cremeans. “They are the second Tuesday each month, January through November at the Peterson Chapel. We also partner with Remount at the United States Air Force Academy’s equine facility to bring groups out for a day with the horses.”
Equine therapy can provide a powerful, transformative experience for those coping with invisible wounds and life trauma achieve wellness physically, mentally and spiritually.
“Trauma isn’t defined the same for every person as they experience it,” said Ditson “Something that doesn’t feel traumatic for me may be very traumatic for you and vice versa, depending on our life history. It can’t all be compartmentalized forever; it has to be processed in order to move forward.”
Communication is a key to awareness and connectedness, combatting negative thoughts, and preventing self-harm.
“While you may not feel like you are [at risk] everyday working here at Schriever, there are definitely opportunities to be exposed to things that could potentially speak to your own trauma history,” said Ditson. “There’s no shame in that. The more work we can do on the front end, the more it can decrease capability for suicide.”
Defense Suicide Prevention Office
Military / Veterans Crisis Line
220 Falcon Parkway
Schriever Space Force Base, CO 80912
Peterson-Schriever Garrison Chapel
455 Vincent St.
Colorado Springs, CO 80914
Lt. Col. Jessica Ditson
Peterson-Schriever Garrison (Schriever SFB) Violence Prevention Integrator
Peterson-Schriever Garrison (Peterson SFB) Violence Prevention Integrator