Air Force monitoring Facebook for potential suicides

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The Air Force plans to increase its monitoring of its airmen on Facebook and other social media sites for signs of personal distress.

“We have seen many, many suicide notes posted on Facebook, and we’ve seen some success stories too, where people recognize an individual in distress on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or wherever else and intervened successfully,” Air ForceMaj. Michael McCarthy said Wednesday at a suicide prevention conference sponsored by the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments.

“To date, none of the services have training on how to intervene and how to recognize symptoms in a virtual environment,” Maj. McCarthy said, adding that the Air Force has commissioned the Rand Corp. to study how airmen are using social media.

Suicide among all the armed services has increased during the past decade but leveled off in recent years. Yet Defense Department statistics for 2012 show that suicide tallies are on track to hit record highs this year.

So far this year, the Air Force has seen the largest increase — 32 suicides, up from 23 at the same point last year.

Maj. McCarthy said the Air Force recently has been targeting specific groups that have higher rates of suicide.

“In 2010, we recognized that in several of our career fields — our security forces, our aircraft maintainers, our intel guys — that we had higher rates than the rest of the Air Force … So we implemented focus training for supervisors in those career fields,” he said.

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