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More than 6,000 Veteran suicides occurred each year from 2005 to 2016, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs stated in its 2018 suicide data report. The suicide rate among Veterans in 2016, the latest year reported, was 1.5 times greater than non-Veteran adults. That means more than 20 Service members a day die by suicide. As Christians, we want to honor those who served our country in the military. We want to see them live full and productive lives after their military service. We can support our Veterans by learning the risk factors and warning signs of suicide and focusing on some of the ways we can help our Veterans heal.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), those who served in the military have a greater chance than civilians of developing specific mental health issues like posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD; traumatic brain injury, or TBI; or depression. Veterans are also more likely than non-Service members to turn to drugs or alcohol and develop substance abuse disorders associated with their mental health struggles. Marital stress, financial issues, and the anxieties that come with reassimilating into civilian life can also lead to suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.
Other risk factors can include major job loss or financial loss, a significant physical illness or injury, personality disorders, hopelessness, history of abuse or trauma, and any family history of suicide. Veterans who have been exposed to others who have committed suicide, even through media reports or social media, could be more likely to attempt suicide. Loss of relationships, a lack of social support, and easy access to a lethal method are additional risk factors that may lead to suicide.
Warning Signs of Suicidal Ideation
There are warning signs that Veterans or anyone considering committing suicide might exhibit. They may talk about wanting to die. They may express feelings of being a burden to their friends or family. They may tell you they are looking for a way to kill themselves. They may say they feel trapped or say their pain is unbearable. Those at risk for suicide may increase their use of alcohol or drugs and act agitated or anxious. They may take more risks than usual and act recklessly.
If you are concerned that a Veteran or Service member you love may be thinking about suicide, watch for changes in their social interactions. They may stop seeing people, withdraw from activities, and refuse to spend time with friends and family. They might sleep very little or start sleeping all the time. Those experiencing suicidal ideation may try to isolate themselves from others. They may also experience extreme mood swings and become easily enraged. They may talk about seeking revenge. The more of these signs you see, the greater the risk for suicide.
If you suspect a Veteran you love is considering suicide, there are several things you can do immediately to help keep them safe. First, do not leave the Veteran alone. Look around the immediate vicinity and remove anything that could be used in a suicide attempt, including any firearms, drugs, alcohol, and sharp objects. Call a suicide prevention hotline. The U.S. National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 800-273-TALK (8255). If you can, take the person in crisis to the emergency room or seek help from a mental health or medical professional.
Veterans also have their own suicide prevention hotlines. The VA considers suicide prevention efforts a top priority and recently expanded its Veterans Crisis Line to three call centers with more than 700 employees, in order to ensure that help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Veterans Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255. Press 1 to talk to someone. You can also send a text message to 838255 to connect with a VA responder or create an online chat session at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat. Active duty Service members, Guardsmen, and Reservists can visit MilitaryCrisisLine.net. The VA also launched the #BeThere hashtag to educate people on how to talk with the Veterans they know to help them avoid suicide.
Helping Veterans Heal
To help Veterans you know heal, pray for them regularly and let them know you are praying. Pray for their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Pray that they will feel honored and know their service is appreciated. Encourage them to pray for their own mental health by repeating Bible verses like Philippians 4:6-7: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (NLT)
Encourage Veterans to see their doctors and mental health professionals regularly and to fuel their bodies with good nutrition and plenty of hydration. You can also suggest developing a regimen of supplements and using essential oils. Some Veterans are also finding relief from chronic pain and the symptoms of PTSD by using CBD oils, the nonpsychotropic cannibinoids that offer many potential health benefits by interacting with the body’s natural endocannibinoid system.
Help Veterans by showing them your support and understanding. Know the differences between PTSD, anxiety, depression, and TBI and how you can best show up and lend a hand when needed. Practice active listening, and encourage Veterans to remain connected to their social circles. Take them out to dinner, help by running errands or making a meal, and enjoy their company. Find ways to laugh together. Laughter helps the body relax. It boosts the immune system and fuels the release of endorphins, those feel-good chemicals our brains naturally release. Endorphins help relieve pain and dissipate anger. Laughter really is good medicine!
Giving Veterans our love, prayers and support and standing with them as they seek mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health can help Veterans find joy in their civilian lives and avoid the devastating act of suicide.
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