Every suicide is a tragic loss – all the more so because suicide can be prevented. Sadly, the risk of suicide in the military among recent wartime Veterans is much higher than for the general U.S. population, likely because Service members and Veterans experience exceptional military-related stress and trauma. Some Veterans are coping with aging, stress or the effects of their military service. Many recent Veterans also have difficulty with their relationships or the transition back to civilian life. There is no time like the present to support Veterans and their loved ones in your community by spreading awareness about suicide prevention and erasing the stigma of suicide.
Suicide: Myth vs Fact
To begin with, there are many misconceptions about suicide in popular American culture. Here are a few general myths and facts about suicide to eliminate some of the confusion.
MYTH: Suicide happens without warning.
FACT: In most cases, someone who dies by suicide shows many warning signs before making a suicide attempt. Learn the warning signs of suicide to know what to look for.
MYTH: Talking about suicide could give someone the idea to do it.
FACT: Openly discussing suicide is one of the best ways you can help someone in a suicidal crisis. Silence is dangerous. Ask the questions.
MYTH: There’s nothing you can do to stop a person who wants to die.
FACT: You can intervene, and intervention can be effective. Most people who attempt or die by suicide just want their pain to end. The possibility of preventing a suicide lasts until the final moments. Never give up on someone even if he or she seems decided. Intervention can save a life.
MYTH: Once suicidal, always suicidal.
FACT: A suicidal crisis is a temporary condition. With proper support and treatment, someone can overcome the crisis and go through life without ever experiencing another suicidal episode.
Veteran-Specific Suicide Risks
Compared to the average American civilian, Veterans have added suicide risks because of the nature of their duties and experiences while deployed. Some of these risks include the following:
- Frequent deployments
- Deployments to hostile environments
- Exposure to extreme stress
- Physical/sexual assault while in the service (not limited to women)
- Length of deployments
- Service related injury
Suicide Prevention: Protective Factors
The goals of suicide prevention for Service members, Veterans and civilians alike are simple: increase factors that promote coping and reduce factors that increase risk.
Suicide prevention starts with protective factors. Protective factors are the skills, strengths and resources that help a person deal more effectively with stressful events. They act as buffers that lower long-term risk and boost resilience. Here are some examples of protective factors, some of which have a stronger effect than others:
- Effective mental health care
- Problem solving and conflict resolution skills
- Contact with caregivers
Protective factors can be fostered and built up or eroded. Devastating events and experiences (e.g., combat, disaster and severe loss or injury) can wear down someone’s resilience and make protective factors less effective. Keep in mind that resistance to suicide isn’t necessarily permanent; it's for this reason that protective factors need to be continually strengthened.
Do you know someone in a mental health crisis?
No matter how bad someone's problems seem, suicide is never the solution. Above all, urge the person you know to get help from a doctor or emergency room, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 24/7 at 800-273-TALK (8255).
Find Ongoing Support
It's important to remember that healing is a process that takes time and effort. Veterans Affairs offers a variety of services to help Veterans and their families get back on track:
- Specially-trained Suicide Prevention Coordinators in VA medical centers across the country can help you get the counseling and services you need.
- VA Vet Centers can help Veterans and their families readjust to life at home after returning from service in a combat zone.
- Veterans Benefits Administration offices can help Veterans access benefits for disability compensation (monthly payments), job training, home loans and much more.
For more information on the various products available to purchase for your community, browse the QuickSeries® library of health and wellness guides, including: Suicide Prevention for Service Members: Open the Door to Support.