I’m not writing a regular column anymore, but recent statistics released by the Department of Veterans Affairs were so shocking, I felt the need to address them in a public forum. To put it simply, the suicide rate for veterans is too high. The report entitled “Suicide Data Report: 2012” examined suicide among our veterans, and found some alarming trends. Incredibly, the suicide rate among veterans in 2009 and 2010 (the latest year data was accumulated) stood at 22 per day. That’s right… per day! The rigors of war, and the toll that takes on a veteran and their families can be overwhelming at times. Conforming to a normal life after living in a combat zone for a year (or longer) can be confusing and downright difficult.
“The suicide level for veterans is unacceptable, what we’re seeing is an extraordinary tragedy which speaks to the horror of war and the need for us to do a much better job assisting our soldiers and their families after they return home.” — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Chairman: Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee
Estimated number of veteran suicides 1999-2010
Suicide Data Report: 2012 – VA.gov
There are some things that we all can do to be more aware AND to take action on if we suspect someone is in crisis.
If you suspect a veteran friend or loved one is at risk for suicide, you should take the following actions now:
- Reach out to them today (don’t wait). Let them know you are thinking about them and give them ample opportunity to talk to you. Your goal here is to be a good listener. Look for additional clues and/or at-risk behaviors, and more than anything make sure they know they can count on you if things escalate. The Mayo Clinic offers a list of questions you can ask a suicidal person like “How are you coping with what’s been happening in your life?” and “Do you ever feel like just giving up?” Interestingly, the Mayo Clinic notes that “Asking about suicidal thoughts or feelings won’t push someone into doing something self-destructive. In fact, offering an opportunity to talk about feelings may reduce the risk of acting on suicidal feelings.”
- Make sure they know about resources like the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255 & press 1 to talk to someone live). Additionally there is a Crisis Text Line (text 838255), AND an interactive Confidential Veterans Chat Portal (you’ll find it online at VeteranCrisisLine.net). Another great resource for anyone (veteran or not) is The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can speak to someone now by dialing 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Look for the warning signs. Did you know that the VA’s 2012 Suicide Report indicated that the methods for non-fatal (suicidal) events showed that 51% of (veteran) suicide attempts included poisoning/overdosing? Look for the accumulation of pills etc. Do they have access to firearms? This same report indicated firearms were used in 10.9% of non-fatal suicides. How are they sleeping? Are they isolating themselves from friends and family? Are they talking about being a burden to others?
- Help them get the help they need. If your friend or family member is in crisis, you CAN help them get the assistance they need. Do the heavy lifting for them if necessary… Offer to join them when calling one of the hot-lines mentioned above. Offer to take them to the doctors office.. and sit-in with them if necessary. A family physician is a great resource for identifying the severity of suicide risk, and finding the proper resources to help.
- Finally, to avert a crisis… call 911. If all else fails, you need to call 911. It’s a difficult call to make but if it means the difference between life and death… you make the call!