The Air Force saw a small drop in total force suicides for the first quarter of 2020 when measured against this point of the year in 2019, according to the service.
The Air Force reported a total of 34 Air Force personnel have died by suicide as of March 31, including 20 active duty airmen. That number is down from the 41 suicides the Air Force reported across the entire force the end of March last year, officials said.
"Total Force suspected deaths by suicides are slightly lower this year than the same time period in 2019. It is too early to draw any conclusions on this or to know if this represents a trend,” Brig. Gen. Claude K. Tudor, director of Air Force Resilience, said in an email to Military Times. “However, the Department of the Air Force remains laser-focused on helping our Forces and families strengthen their resilience in this current environment of physical distancing and isolation.”
The suicide data was first made public on slide shared on the unofficial Air Force page Amn/Nco/Snco.
This year’s numbers are still higher than those from 2018 though. By March 31 in 2018, the Air Force had recorded 17 deaths by suicide across the entire force, nine of which were among active duty airmen.
Of those who have died by suicide this year, 30 were male and four were female. Twenty were enlisted personnel, eight were officers and six were Air Force civilians. Nine were under the age of 23, 12 were between the ages of 23 to 30, six were between the ages of 31 to 40, six were over the age of 40, and one’s age is unknown, according the slide.
Air Force spokesperson Lynn Kirby confirmed the authenticity of the slide and said it was accurate at the time it was created, though noted that the numbers may fluctuate slightly as suspected suicides are confirmed or ruled out as other causes of death.
In 2019, the Air Force saw a nearly 33 percent increase in suicides from those reported in 2018 — marking the highest number of suicides since 2008. Altogether, the service reported 137 deaths by suicide last year, up from 103 in 2018.
In an effort to stem suicides across the force, Air Force Chief of Staff Dave Goldfein ordered that all wings in August 2019 stand down for a day before Sept. 15 to address suicide prevention.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright also posted a video about the stand down to emphasize it wasn’t a “one-day effort to check a box,” but an attempt to drive further conversations between airmen, command teams and others regarding how best to support Air Force personnel.
Some Air Force leaders also took the directive a step farther. For example, Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina took several additional days off as part of a Resilience Tactical Pause in August and September last year to host a guest speaker and bring together small groups for some dialogue about the issue.
Tudor stressed the importance of watching out for one another, adding that Air Force personnel and their families are the “most vital resource we have.”
“We are seeing leaders with empathy, character and moral courage make hard decisions as we maneuver through this challenge,” Tudor said. “They are adjusting work schedules where feasible to accomplish the mission while accommodating the needs of individual member and family circumstances to the maximum extent possible.”
“Taking care of each other has never been more challenging as it is in this environment,” Tudor said. “It is imperative we each do our part by continuing to check in on our wingmen and care for each other during this time of increased stress and uncertainty.”
The Veterans and Military Crisis Line provides 24/7 confidential support for service members and family members. It can be reached at 800-273-8255, by texting 838255 or online chat.