Although it can be a difficult subject to talk about, suicide is one of the most serious public health concerns in our nation, with more than 45,000 Americans dying by suicide each year, according to the most recent data from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
Veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a Veteran in crisis, should contact the Veterans Crisis Line, available 24/7/365: Dial 988 then press 1.
At the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), preventing suicide among all Veterans, including those who don’t get care within VA’s system, is a top priority. VA is working to reach Veterans where they live, work and thrive by providing resources to build networks of support among Veterans and their loved ones, community-based organizations, Veterans Service Organizations, health care providers and other members of the community.
Just as suicide has no single cause, no one strategy can end Veteran suicide. Talking about it is a good place to start. Talking openly about suicide and suicide prevention helps make everyone more aware of the issue and of the many resources available to support Veterans and their families. The more everyone learns about suicide, the more lives can be saved.
Mental Health Matters
According to AFSP, 90% of people who die by suicide have an underlying—and potentially treatable—mental health condition. Depression, bipolar disorder and substance use are strongly linked to suicidal thinking and behavior. Known risk factors, such as childhood trauma, substance use or even chronic physical pain can contribute to someone taking their life. Statistics show that getting the proper support and treatment is critical to the long-term well-being of someone experiencing an intense moment of active suicidal crisis.
Mental health conditions—including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—can be managed just like any other health condition. Early detection and adequate treatment are key to reducing suicide risk. Most people with mental health conditions, who actively manage and treat them, live full lives and do not experience suicidal behavior. Evidence-based therapies that are helpful for people experiencing suicidal ideation and behavior include Problem-Solving Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Safety Planning.
You can take active self-care steps to improve your overall mental health and well-being by practicing good physical health habits—getting exercise, sleeping well, eating healthy and staying fit. Staying connected to others, including family members, coworkers, community groups and fellow Veterans and Service members, is an important protective factor. People who have positive, supportive relationships tend to have an increased sense of belonging and a healthy sense of personal worth.
Be Aware of Warning Signs
Suicidal thoughts or actions are a sign of extreme distress. Caring for yourself or others means learning to recognize these signs and taking action to get the support you or your Veteran needs. Signs of an emerging crisis may include appearing sad or depressed most of the time, feelings of hopelessness and mood swings. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the following warning signs indicate someone may be at immediate risk for attempting suicide:
- Feeling unbearable emotional or physical pain
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Talking or thinking about death often
- Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
- Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Talking about feeling empty or hopeless or having no reason to live
- Giving away important possessions
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
- Putting affairs in order, such as making a will
- Taking great risks that could lead to death
If these warning signs apply to you or someone you know, get help as soon as possible, especially if the behavior is new or has increased recently.
Resources Ready to Help
Veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide and those who know a Veteran in crisis should contact the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential crisis intervention and support available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Call 988 then Press 1. This new, shorter phone number will make it easier to remember and access support when you need it most. You can also text 838255 or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.
Reach Out is a mental health resource, provided by VA, for Veterans going through a challenging time in their lives, whether an everyday struggle or something more complicated. Reach Out emphasizes the importance of not waiting for a crisis to happen by acting now to help prevent Veteran suicide later. In addition to reaching out, other critical actions that can save a life are hearing a Veteran’s story, being prepared, finding resources and spreading the word. VA wants Veterans, their families, friends and caregivers to know they’re not alone. It only takes a moment to reach out and ask for help. Take the time. Make the time. Be there.®
Last updated September 20, 2022