PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.h. --
“His life was at stake,” said Senior Airman Jalyn Acres. “He was at an overseas base so we were talking on the phone but I saw the progression of the conversation. Initially I don’t know what was going through is head but it was a downward spiral. I knew I needed to call someone.”
Acres, a bioenvironmental engineering Airman with the 157th ARW Medical Group, contacted her first sergeant along with the command post and ultimately prevented the suicide of a friend serving on active duty.
In the past few years, she has helped prevent others, too. By listening, paying attention and creating space and hope for her wingmen and close friends living with depression. She helped them contact resources and receive the support they needed before it was too late.
“Each time it was difficult to actually make the call,” she said. “I didn’t want to make any of those feelings worse but there comes a point when getting help is immediately needed.”
Acres said every situation she experienced around suicide was unique and specific to personal stressors. She expressed that each decision felt important and heavy but the one thing she realized everyone needed was someone to listen.
“There are so many different factors that can bring someone to this point,” she said. “I’ve learned it takes a lot for somebody to reach out for help so when someone comes to you and says they need to talk, listen.”
“That’s the most important thing right then,” she added. “No matter what.”
Don Roussel, the director of psychological health with the 157th Air Refueling Wing, said Acres exemplified the Air Force’s ACE; ask, care, escort, model in a situation that required dynamic thinking.
“Jalyn handled her wingman’s situation with thoughtful and timely actions,” Roussel said. “She asked tough questions when she noticed things changing. She was an honest and caring listener then got her wingman the help they needed through her available resources and she saved their life. That is exactly the impact that courage and connection can have.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the U.S. in 2019, taking 14 lives of every 100,000 Americans.
“Prior to COVID we had one or two attempts in the last five years,” Roussel said. “As a whole, the New Hampshire Guard has had serval suicides in the last year.”
Roussel recognized the taxing operations tempo, the weight of the COVID-19 relief missions, everyday family stressors and a multitude of other factors could be contributors in the uptick of suicidal thoughts in members. He emphasized that connection between members is the gold standard for prevention, especially in times of uncertainty.
“We are in very trying times, we really have to work hard to create balance in our life and COVID-19 has made us feel like we are running one marathon after another,” Roussel said. “Reaching out, listening and having those awkward conversations provides connection and safety for someone who might feel isolated and trapped.”
Roussel underlined the need for members to check in on their wingman and coworkers. He said signs for depression vary with each situation but Airmen should be cognizant and ask questions if they notice changes in their wingman’s behavior.
“If someone is having mood swings, isolating or showing up late check in on them,” he said. “Everyone has a unique way of handling stress. You might notice that someone who usually loves to take meticulous care of their car has stopped cleaning it and leaves trash everywhere. Take a second to ask them if everything is alright. Ask those awkward questions and listen.”
Roussel added that ACE may take time but choosing these actions can safeguard a wingman’s life.
“If things aren’t alright be there to care,” he said. “Help them reach out to the resources available 24/7 and ensure they get help if they need it.”
The Wing provides continuous access to Military one source at 800-342-9647, the base chaplains, New Hampshire Care Coordination at 866-769-3085, the Vet Center at 877-927-8387 and the military crisis line at 800-273-8255.
“There is no wrong door,” Roussel said. “We have a moral and ethical duty to look out for our wingmen. Reaching out, staying connected and having that trusted report with each other, that’s what can save a life.”