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Eliminating stigma: A leadership responsibility

By Lt. Col. Chris Karns
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

As a child, a close relative of mine committed suicide. In those days, mental health was only discussed in hushed tones and little support was available. I was shaped by this experience and in my military career, I have tried to create an environment where people feel comfortable discussing their problems and supported in their efforts to seek professional help. In fact, I consider this to be a leadership responsibility.

As a squadron commander, I felt part of leadership was knowing the Airmen and creating an environment of trust and support. As an Air War College student, I saw an opportunity to further research mental health and the increased role leadership and communication needs to play in defeating mental health stigma.

Recently, comic genius, renowned actor and USO veteran Robin Williams committed suicide. While this event was tragic, there are lessons to be learned. It helped people recognize that even some who seem to have it all struggle from time to time and need professional help.

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