Suicide Awareness Month

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September is Suicide Awareness Month. According to a June 24-30 survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Coronavirus has affected the mental health of U.S. adults. About 40 percent of participants reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse. Out of the 40 percent, approximately 11 percent reported seriously considering suicide.

Suicide has regrettably been prevalent among the veteran community long before the Coronavirus. In 2017, about 6,100 veterans died by suicide. Unfortunately, very little research has been completed to analyze how the Coronavirus is affecting veterans. What we do know is this: “the suicide rate for veterans is 1.5 times higher” than those who have not served, and female veterans are 2.5 times more likely to commit suicide than their civilian counterparts (Hooper, 2020).

The Veterans Administration (VA), notes on their Veteran Suicide Prevention page that while many veterans regrettably do not show warning signs, some do show signs including:

  • “Seeming sad, depressed, anxious, or agitated
  • Sleeping either all the time or not much at all
  • Not caring about what they look like or what happens to them
  • Pulling away from friends, family, and society
  • Losing interest in hobbies, work, school, or other things they used to care about
  • Expressing feelings of excessive guilt or shame, failure, lack of purpose in life, or being trapped”

The VA notes that veterans struggling with thoughts of suicide may also change the way they act, and start to:

  • “Perform poorly at work or school
  • Act violently or take risks (like driving fast or running red lights)
  • Do things to prepare for a suicide (like giving away special personal items, making a will, or seeking access to guns or pills)”

The good news is that there are resources available to help and, because of their strong rapport and meaningful relationships with veterans, LVERs and DVOP specialists are in the unique position to observe a veteran’s demeanor and mood. If you recognize any of the signs of suicide, you should consider reaching out to the resources that follow.

The 2018 VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSON) Act allows for greater access to community urgent care providers and also expands telehealth services for veterans. If you’re a family member or friend of a Veteran who’s having trouble adjusting to life at home, the VA offers Coaching into Care. Coaching into Care is a national telephone service of the VA which aims to educate, support, and empower family members and friends who are seeking care or services for a veteran. Coaches are available at (888) 823-7458, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline and Veterans Crisis Line is a direct avenue of support. Veterans may reach a counselor at (800) 273-8255. Veterans should select 1 after dialing the number. Veterans may also text the hotline at 838255 or dial (800) 799-4889 if they have hearing loss. Finally, the hotline features live, private online chats with crisis counselors. The various different hotline avenues are available 24/7, 365 days a year.

The VA also outlines local resources available for mental health support. Here, veterans, families, friends, or veteran service providers may search for resources filtered by state or zip code and then by the types of resources. They include specially trained Suicide Prevention Coordinators or teams at all VA Medical Centers across the country; VA Medical Centers; Outpatient Clinics; Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) Offices; and Vet Centers.  EreHere

Finally, on March 5, 2019, the President signed Executive Order 13861, establishing a three-year effort known as the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS). PREVENTS created an inter-agency Task Force to lead the development and implementation of a national, comprehensive roadmap to change how our nation treats mental health and understands suicide prevention. The PREVENTS Roadmap contains research, strategies, and recommendations to inform both the public and private sectors in their efforts. PREVENTS seeks to change the culture surrounding mental health and suicide prevention through enhanced community integration, prioritized research activities, and implementation strategies that emphasize improved overall health and well-being — among not just Veterans but all Americans.

While the preceding months have been difficult for veterans and the entire country, it is critical to remember that there are actions that can be taken by AJC staff, the veterans themselves or by their loved ones to support veteran mental health and end veteran suicide. This article featured only a selection of the available high-impact, on-call resources to serve veterans in crisis as well as other resources for self-study and continued veteran support.