Airman’s service leads to work in suicide prevention

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  • By Senior Airman Kayla Barker, 419th Fighter Wing

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah – “As a flight commander, from the time I was a lieutenant to when I was a captain, I had airmen with suicidal ideations in every flight that I worked in,” said Maj. Lauren Gilbertson, 419th Fighter Wing. “You become familiar with the challenges that airmen face with mental health.”

Gilbertson is a former active-duty officer who recently joined the 419th as a Reservist.

Seeing airmen struggle with mental health led her to take a position as the Veteran Suicide Prevention manager for the state of Utah. Her position was created in the last year under the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs in an effort to reduce suicides among veterans and service members in Utah.

Drawing on her personal experience to fulfill her role , Gilbertson coordinates with community organizations , attends events to educate the public, and shares resources with veterans, service members, and their families.

Gilbertson’s experience in the military gives her a unique insight that her colleagues may not have. “The social workers that I work with at Intermountain Healthcare don't know what military members go through,” said Gilbertson. “Being able to explain that experience in their terms helps.”

Service members not only deal with the daily stress of work and home, but also service-related stress including TDYs (temporary duty travel), deployments, and PTSD. Dealing with these stressors can put mental strain on both the service members and their families.

“If you’re struggling, know that you’re not alone in your struggle,” said Gilbertson. “Someone is always there to listen. If you’re not someone who is struggling, find out what those resources are so if someone comes to you, you can go to your toolbox.”

Some of the tools and resources that Gilbertson shares with service members and veterans include chaplains, first sergeants, Veterans Affairs, SafeUT app, and Live On Utah.

Another tool that Gilbertson and her organization focus on is firearm safety. Their goal is to reduce access to lethal means to those in a mental health crisis. Last year she was able to obtain over 400 gun safes and distribute them to veterans and service members. She hopes to continue this aid to decrease suicide risk for service members, veterans, and their families.

Suicide prevention is not just an issue in September. It’s something that requires attention and awareness year-round. When addressing your concerns with someone, it’s important to be direct. “Don’t be afraid to have those hard, awkward conversations,” said Gilbertson. The more you normalize it, the easier it’s going to be. If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to accept help. Ask for it and then receive it.”

If you are struggling with suicidal ideation, call the Veteran's Crisis Line - 988, then press 1.

For more information about the Utah Veteran Suicide Prevention program mentioned in the article, go to or