Suicide Prevention: reaching out is a sign of strength

  • Published
  • By Katherine Franco
  • 412th Test Wing Public Affairs

Airmen, civilians and family members attended a Suicide Prevention training event at the base theater on Edwards Air Force Base, California, Sept. 1.

According to the Department of Defense’s Defense Suicide Prevention Office “Quarterly Suicide Report,” 689 members died by suicide last year, including 81 active-duty Airmen.

Kevin Polky, the founder and executive director of KP Counseling, was one of two presenters. Polky is also the founder and president of Shatter Our Silence, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness of actionable education and tools to help young adults cope with depression and suicide.

"I started Shatter Our Silence, which is a suicide prevention program that focuses primarily on raising awareness and educating on the risk and the factors that lead to young adult suicides," Polky said.

Since 1999 to 2019, there's been a 40 percent increase in suicides, according to Polky, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10 to 24-year-olds. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, those numbers are sure to rise.

"Just as the pandemic has hit, we're seeing that the most affected population are 18 to 29-year-olds (suicide-wise),” Polky said.

The second speaker was Laura Kane, founder and executive director of Marshmallow’s HOPE. Kane is also the author of the book, "Lost to Darkness, Enlightened by Grace."

The organization was named “Marshmallow” after his son, Zachary, who died by suicide.

"Marshmallow was Zachary's nickname,” said Kane. “I have a lot of great memories of his laugh just at the name...Marshmallow was appropriate."

HOPE, an acronym for Hold On, Pain Ends, is a key vision for Kane’s organization and was established to help suicide survivor families.

Kane also talked about her HERO mentorship program, which is committed to helping youth in the community. HERO an acronym for help encourage reach and overcome.

The program partners veterans with children and young adults. She believes that through mentorship and support, the program will help lessen drug addiction and diminish crime rates as people who are often struggling would self-medicate; and could turn to crime for drugs.

More importantly though, she said it will help the youth in the community to learn that it’s okay not to be okay.

The talks were held to start off Suicide Prevention Month in September. This year’s theme is “Connect to Protect: Support is Within Reach,” said Julie Wilbanks, the Edwards AFB Community Support Coordinator.

“It’s important to bring different speakers out so Airman and Civilians understand that they are not alone and to see a different perspective. Remembering you are not alone in how you may be feeling and what you are experiencing in this moment,” Wilbanks said. “Life is stressful and can be demanding, tragic things happen to good people and remembering that we are all connected can assist us through this life.”


Additional resources:

Quarterly Suicide Report: Defense Suicide Prevention Office Quarterly Suicide Report:
Employee Assistance Program: 866-580-9078 (24/7)
Edwards Chapel Team: 661-277-2110 (24/7)
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255