The US Air Force has called for all units to stand down for a day in response to rising suicide rates in the ranks. In a letter to commanders, general David Goldfein, the USAF chief of staff, ordered a day-long “operational pause” for every unit to discuss the issue and take stock of its members’ mental health. Commanders must pick a day to stand down during the next six weeks.
Goldfein reportedly described suicide as “an adversary that is killing more of our airmen than any enemy on the planet.” His letter stated that there had been 78 deaths by suicide among Air Force members in 2019. That number has since hit 79, according to Brian Everstine of Air Force Magazine, who first reported the news of the stand-down order.
“That’s 28 more than this time last year,” chief master sergeant Kaleth Wright said in a video distributed to commanders, referencing the earlier tally of 78 deaths. “If we don’t do something, we could lose 150, 160 airmen in 2019. We can’t let this keep happening.”
The Air Force normally reports about 100 deaths by suicide annually.
Wright explained that Goldfein had “directed this resilience tactical pause, a break in the daily grind, so that we can focus on our airmen and their well-being.”
He maintained, however, that the day-long stand down is not a “one-day effort,” but rather the beginning of a new, more open dialogue between enlisted service members and their superiors.
“Most importantly, keep this as a primary focus beyond this pause,” Wright said in the video. “Make every single airman count, every single day. You know, someone right now, in your organization, is struggling.”
Last year, the service branch stood down for a day to focus on safety after a number of fatal plane crashes.
It is difficult to pinpoint specific reasons for the uptick in deaths by suicide within the Air Force, Wright told Air Force Magazine’s Bridenstine. Seven members of the New York City Police Department have died by suicide so far this year, and mental health issues, including cases that have resulted in deaths by suicide, continue to affect US Customs and Border Protection officers.
Approximately 129 Americans die from suicide each day. If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 24/7, for confidential support at 1-800-273-8255.