The Air Force is using virtual reality to fight its suicide epidemic | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

The Air Force is using virtual reality to fight its suicide epidemic

Airman Mike is having a real bad day. He’s in a tough spot at work, his wife left him and took the kids, and he’s posting a lot of worrisome stuff on Instagram. Unfortunately, there are a lot of Mikes in the Air Force, and now you’re at his house, trying to check in on him. What do you do?

That’s exactly the question the Air Force’s new suicide prevention virtual reality simulator is trying to help airmen answer. The 30-minute training session being demoed at Scott and Travis Air Force Bases puts trainees in the shoes of airmen checking in on their virtual buddies at a rough time in their lives.

In the simulator, participants enter Mike’s home, where they are presented with multiple dialogue options to choose from in an attempt to help him process his situation and encourage him to seek help. If airmen choose the wrong option and end up escalating the situation, a training coach chimes in to give you advice. The key is to get trainees used to asking tough questions, which could mean the difference between life or death for an airman in distress.

“The unique part of this VR training is that it’s voice-activated, so you’re required to say things out loud that maybe you’ve never had to say before,” said Master Sgt. Shawn Dougherty, a VR training facilitator at Travis, in a press release. “Actually saying phrases like ‘do you have a gun in the house’ or ‘are you thinking about harming yourself.’ We’ve seen over this week, even with squadron leadership, saying uncomfortable phrases like that, they actually say them quieter than other phrases that they’re more comfortable with. “