Many of our troops have returned home and appear to have resumed a normal life, yet the fighting continues for many of our veterans. Today we are losing more veterans to suicide than we are losing to combat. The Department of Defense has invested a significant amount of time and money in suicide prevention trainings and efforts yet the numbers keep going up. What is going on with our veterans and their mental health, and more importantly what can we do to change this epidemic?
As a trauma psychologist I have seen many patients with acute and past traumas, but there is nothing like working with a returning war veteran with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and familial conflicts. And even though veterans are often hesitant to reach out to mental health services, they do reach out and desperately want help. Suicide is a last resort fueled by desperation to end unbearable pain.
One of the first steps we need to take is recognizing that our veterans are at risk and what risk factors to look for. Here are a few risk factors to be aware of:
- Difficulty reintegrating into society, work, school and family
- Isolating behaviors, withdrawn
- Depressed and sad mood
- Survivor guilt
- Drug and alcohol dependence
- Traumatic brain injury, illness, and injuries
- Chronic pain
Individuals who attempt or complete suicide may present with the following warning signs:
- Having trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
- Giving away belongings
- Talking about the need to “get my affairs in order”
- Loss of interest
- Sudden improved mood such as appearing more calm and at ease after a period of depression and anxiety
- Risky and self-destructive behaviors
- Seeking isolation and pulling away from friends or not wanting to go out
- Talking about death or suicide
- Talking about feeling hopeless or guilty
- Making a plan and arranging to take their own life
When a veteran is struggling and contemplating suicide, it is often difficult to know how and where to get help. Therefore, it is important for our society, family and friends to be informed about what to look for and what steps to take.
If you are concerned about a veteran you know, please reach out for help! Contact your local VA, The Soldiers Project, a mental health professional, and the Suicide Prevention Hotline.