DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --
Chris Locke, 436th Airlift Wing honorary commander and founder of SL24 UnLocke the Light Foundation and Sean’s House, visited Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, to talk with Airmen about mental health and suicide prevention Sept. 28, 2021.
Locke lost his son, Sean, to suicide in 2018. He was a Division 1 college athlete, had a successful business career and many friends and family who loved him.
“Despite it all, he was unable to see out of the darkness,” said Locke. “He hid behind a mask telling us everything was great, but behind that mask was my little boy battling a disease called depression.”
Locke and his family aim to educate and assist those dealing with mental illnesses, creating Sean’s House as a mental health safe haven for young adults ages 14-24, where they can receive peer support and community resources.
According to Locke, during his last visit Dover AFB in 2018, the Air Force was experiencing the worst suicide rates they had ever seen. However, since that time, rates have increased by 35%. He also stated 44% of all military suicides occurred in members who had no documented mental health diagnosis.
“They never told a fellow Airman, a commanding officer or a significant other,” said Locke. “Depression wins when you suffer in silence. Be vulnerable...with your friends, and with yourself... and ask for help when you need it.”
Two staff members from Sean’s House also shared their own experiences with mental illness and suicide, highlighting the importance of peer support in their recovery.
“The support I received gave me a first glimpse of purpose,” said Darian Elmendorf, Sean’s House director of peer support. “Airmen who have personal, lived experience overcoming mental health challenges...[can offer strong peer] support for Airmen who are currently struggling. Keep them engaged and help them build resilience.”
One way to help a friend or family member who you feel may be showing suicidal tendencies is to remember the acronym, A.C.E.
Ask. Have the courage to ask the question, but stay calm. Ask the question directly: Are you thinking of killing yourself?
Care. Calmly control the situation; do not use force and be safe. Actively listen to show understanding and produce relief, and remove any means that could be used for self-injury.
Escort. Never leave your wingman alone and escort them to get help.
Resources for mental health issues on base include the mental health clinic, a primary care provider, Chaplain services, first sergeant or commander, Military and Family Life Consultant and Military OneSource.
Chaplains are available 24/7 via the command post at (302) 677-4201, where you will be directly connected. The MFLC is available at (302) 677-6930. The Military Crisis Hotline is also available 24/7 by calling (800) 273-8255 and choosing option 1, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255).