Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass outlined several efforts the service is planning to address suicide and Airmen’s mental health and promised to reveal more in the coming weeks during a livestreamed discussion with Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall on Aug. 30.
Bass helps lead the Department of the Air Force’s “Fortify the Force” initiative, a team of 50-60 leaders and experts tackling barriers to Airmen and Guardians seeking help with mental health, wellness, and resilience. The panel has received more than 300 suggestions so far.
“I look forward to, in the next several weeks, being able to highlight some of those and share them with the field,” Bass said.
One concept the group is rallying around is centralizing support services.
“We need to have installation wellness centers around,” Bass said. “And in those installation wellness centers, we probably need to have our mental health providers, our [Military & Family Life Counseling], and our chaplains.”
The Army pioneered the concept, establishing several dozen “Armed Forces Wellness Centers” on Army posts. By gathering all those resources under one roof, the centers provide a comprehensive approach to mental health and support services, including stress management and wellness coaching.
Bass also suggested USAF could develop “integrated wellness teams,” similar to the “resiliency teams” at RAF Lakenheath that she has previously highlighted. Equipped with “master resiliency trainers, resiliency trainer assistants, volunteer victim advocates” these teams have proven to be valuable to Airmen, she has said.
Kendall acknowledged that he has, at times over his career, visited mental health counselors to deal with the stresses of life and work. Highliting the importance of taking mental health “breaks,” both short five-minute breaks to blow off steam or full days off to refresh oneself, he said it is everyone’s individual responsibility to take care of him or herself, to manage one’s own stress, and to seek help when needed.
But those skills don’t necessarily come naturally. To better equip Airmen with the skills to manage their stress and work through challenges, Bass said USAF is preparing to add resiliency training to its leadership development program.
She and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. will soon “roll out something called foundations courses,” she said, that will turn optional professional enhancement seminars into required training.
“We’re about to make those things mandatory,” she said. “We will make sure that we have relevant content that we are supplying and giving you, empowering you with, so that you can continue growing those around you.”
Bass said the Fortify the Force team is also tackling suicide prevention. The panel aims to standardize Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training to ensure all Airmen have the skills to identify depression or suicidal behavior and to successfully intervene when necessary. It is “phenomenal training,” she said.