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Model Program: Suicide Prevention and Changing Attitudes About Mental Health Care

Air Force Initiative to Prevent Suicide


To reduce the alarming rate of suicide. Between 1990 and 1994, one in every four deaths among active duty U.S. Air Force personnel was from suicide. After unintentional injuries, suicide was the second leading cause of death in the Air Force.


In 1996, the Air Force Chief of Staff initiated a community-wide approach to prevent suicide through hard-hitting messages to all active duty personnel. The messages recognized the courage of those confronting life's stresses and encouraged them to seek help from mental health clinics - actions that were once regarded as career hindering, but were now deemed "career-enhancing." Other features of the program: education and training, improved surveillance, critical incident stress management, and integrated delivery systems of care.


From 1994 to 1998, the suicide rate dropped from 16.4 to 9.4 suicides per 100,000. By 2002, the overall decline from 1994 was about 50%. Researchers also found significant declines in violent crime, family violence, and deaths that resulted from unintentional injuries.38 Air Force leaders have emphasized community-wide involvement in every aspect of the project.

Biggest challenge

Sustaining the enthusiasm by service providers as the program has become more established.

How other organizations can adopt

The program can be transferred to any community that has identified leaders and organization, especially other military services, large corporations, police forces, firefighters, schools, and universities.


All U.S. Air Force locations throughout the world

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