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Citizen-Airman uses platform to raise awareness for suicide prevention

Portrait of Zach Cyrus, a Maintenance Operations Command Airman and Charleston, W.Va. city cop. (West Virginia National Guard Photo by Bo Wriston)

Portrait of Zach Cyrus, a Maintenance Operations Command Airman and Charleston, W.Va. city cop. (West Virginia National Guard Photo by Bo Wriston)

MCLAUGHLIN AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, W.Va. -- After a Facebook post of an unknown Charleston City policeman sitting with a suicidal man on a sidewalk went viral across social media, the unknown officer felt the need to come forward and speak out about suicide awareness. That policeman is Zach Cyrus, who also happens to be a staff sergeant with the 130th Maintenance Group.

On an afternoon in May, Cyrus received a 911 dispatch call of a man having suicidal thoughts. Upon arriving on scene in a high-traffic area, Cyrus noticed the man was sitting on a curb and appeared emotional and depressed. Cyrus didn’t confront the man in a hostile or authoritative manner. Instead, he simply sat down beside him.

"There we’re a bunch of cars driving past and I just walked him over to the curb and sat with him to just lower the pressure," Cyrus said. "I just wanted him to know I was there and that I was going to help him, and I didn’t want him to feel out of place or like it was a bad thing."

After Cyrus intervened, the man did get the help he needed and was committed to the hospital. “Usually when we show up somewhere, somebody is having a really bad day,” said Cyrus. “But I try to make it personable, not just being a cop, but showing that I care. They’re already so distraught and don’t want some petty advice, they need someone there that will truly help.”

Cyrus added that most of the people he deals with still don’t want to admit that they need help, so it takes digging deeper to truly impact them.

Likewise in the military, it is common to see people who have problems as well hide them due to being scared to admit they have these issues. We attend yearly briefings and classes on mental health and specifically for suicide awareness, but there are continues strides that can be made in destigmatizing seeking help for mental health issues. With the training we go through in the military though, Airmen like Cyrus report that handling these situations becomes more comfortable and less out of the ordinary.

“Being in the Guard definitely has given me extra routes and avenues to further helping people with problems surrounding mental health and suicidal ideations,” Cyrus explained. “It’s helped with things like recognizing signs of depression. Above all, it’s a reminder that anyone can suffer from these problems and it doesn’t make them less of a man or a woman or considered a ‘weak person.’”

Cyrus added that it's okay to not be okay. Life isn’t easy and just because you have problems doesn’t make you a problem. Many people go through difficult situations and it’s just important to recognize it and address it.

“I just want people to feel comfortable enough to reach out,” he stressed.

Never be afraid to reach out; whether it be to a fellow Airmen, leadership or the chaplain, someone will be there for you if you are struggling.

“Mental health is key to not only readiness but to be true war-fighters,” said Col. Johnny Ryan, 130th Airlift Wing Commander. “And besides that, we’re a big family here at the 130th, so any chance we get to put this message out, I want it done. We have to make sure we have our Wingman’s back.”

Awareness and prevention are key to promoting a healthier, force and combatting mental illness. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline number is 1-800-273-8255, serving as a great resource to help anyone in need.
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