It has been said that the suicide rate for veterans is typically much higher than the general population.
According to studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
“We also know that the typical state suicide rate for veterans is typically much higher than the general population” said a CDC spokesperson. “This means that, on average, the proportion of casualties for suicidal veterans is greater than non-service members who commit suicide in this country.”
Countless factors that contribute to suicidal thoughts and acts for veterans include things like combat exposure, injury, struggling to return to civilian life, and military sexual trauma all add to the risk of self-harm and committing suicide.
It was also reported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that substance use in general is connected to higher suicide rates.
“Substance use and co-occurring disorders (i.e., mental health and addiction issues that develop together) are particularly common struggles for Veterans, and these can be deadly when left untreated” the spokesperson there said. “The truth of the matter is that a large majority of veterans experience all of these factors and more as a result of the nature of their jobs. By serving the country, veterans often put others’ safety above their own. This is exactly why having resources in place for veterans to seek preventative and active mental health care is so essential in preventing suicide.”
Yes, suicide is a major, yet preventable health problem in the United States, with veterans comprising nearly a quarter of all suicide deaths.
Commonly cited factors leading to increased suicide risk in veterans as well as other groups are:
- Anger, rage, mood swings, and episodes of anxiety and agitation.
- Hopelessness, feeling like there is no way out.
- Withdrawing from family and friends.
- Expressing feelings of having no reason to live.
- Increased alcohol and/or substance abuse.
- Self-destructive and risky behaviors like driving while impaired.
Statistics show that suicide rates are especially high among older veterans. According the VA (Veterans Administration), when in 2016, about 58 percent of all veterans committed suicide were among veterans age 55 years or older, and, it noted that about 20 veterans commit suicide a day, and nearly three quarters are not under VA care.
Certain emotional precursors may precede suicide events, including feelings of loneliness, isolation, hopelessness, and depression.
In a summary of multiple studies, the VA found a variety of factors that may increase the risk of suicide, especially where multiple factors exist, some of these include:
- Acute psychosocial stressors.
- Having low cholesterol.
- Higher doses of opioid medications for pain control.
- Mental health conditions like anxiety disorder, manic-depressive disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
- Substance abuse, especially heavy binge drinking.
“Alcohol and substance abuse can play a particularly and significant role in the increased risk of suicide,” it was stated. “In fact, veterans that abuse drug or alcohol are more than twice as likely to die by suicide than other veterans. In general, people abusing drugs and alcohol are more likely to be depressed and to have social and financial problems.”
One reference indicated that the The more common mental disorders among veterans are PTSD and depression.
Veterans coping with the dual diagnosis of substance abuse and PTSD are likely to have psychiatric and medical conditions, such as anxiety disorders, Bipolar disorder, HIV, liver disease, Schizophrenia and seizures.
It went on to say that in spite of these grim realities, veterans have plenty of reason for hope. The VA has doubled its efforts to address the challenges that veterans face. With the passage of the MISSION Act of 2018, the federal government is making aggressive efforts at extending outreach to veterans. Among other things, the MISSION Act:
- Includes provisions that enhance the recruitment of clinicians.
- Authorizes access to community urgent care providers.
- Expands telehealth services.
- Treatment for Veterans at AAC.
- The provision of increasing access to community care providers is especially beneficial to veterans who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts or intentions.
Family and friends of male and female veterans whom they believe to be experiencing suicidal signs should seek help for them right away. Get the individual help. Provide resources for the individual. Call the Veteran’s crisis line at 1(800)-273-8255. Or if it seems the situation is severe, take the individual to the closest emergency room or call for help.
In the meantime, loved ones should assist the veteran by:
- Starting a conversation. Mention the signs that prompted you to talk to them. Stay calm and let the person know you want to help them. Don’t leave the person alone.
- Listening, expressing concern and reassuring the individual. Let the person know you care and that you take the situation seriously. Letting the person know you care will go a long way in establishing a support system.
- Create a safety plan: Ask the person if they have access to anything that could harm them and call for help if you feel the situation is dangerous.