Suicidal thoughts among veterans can be a difficult and sensitive topic to discuss, but it is an important one. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), veterans are twice as likely to die by suicide than non-veterans. It is crucial that we understand the signs and symptoms of suicidal thoughts so that we can help those who need it most.
Warning Signs for Suicidal Thoughts in Veterans
Veterans may be at risk if they exhibit any of the following 15 warning signs:
- Increased substance use – alcohol or drugs, or both
- Withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities
- Aggressive behavior or irritability
- Reckless behavior such as speeding on a motorcycle or driving while intoxicated
- Feeling hopeless and helpless
- Difficulty concentrating
- Becoming easily overwhelmed
- Mood swings between sadness and anger
- Talking about wanting to harm oneself
- Making a will, giving away possessions
- Having an obsession with death
- Feeling trapped with no way out
- Becoming more withdrawn than usual
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Losing interest in things that used to bring joy in life
If you notice any of these warning signs in yourself or someone you know, it’s important that you reach out and talk to them about it as soon as possible since suicide is preventable with the right support and treatment plan in place.
Suicide Risk Factors for Veterans
Let’s take a look at some of the common risk factors for suicide in veterans.
Mental Health Issues and Traumatic Experiences
The most significant risk factor for suicide among veterans is mental health issues. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety are all common mental health issues experienced by many veterans. These conditions can be caused by traumatic experiences during service, such as exposure to combat or other war-related trauma. Other mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, can also increase the risk of suicide in veterans.
Access to Firearms
Another key factor in the increased rate of veteran suicides is access to firearms. Access to firearms has been found to significantly increase the risk of death by suicide among both civilians and military personnel alike. For example, a study conducted at the University of California San Diego found that individuals who had access to handguns were 2-3 times more likely to die by suicide than those without access to firearms. As such, it is important for family members and friends of veterans to ensure that they have limited access or no access at all to firearms if possible.
In addition, veterans may experience social pressures that can contribute to an increased risk of suicide. This can include feelings of isolation due to being separated from friends made during service, difficulty transitioning back into civilian life after leaving active duty status, or challenges with adjusting back into family life after returning home from deployment. Social pressure can be a powerful contributing factor for many individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts or ideation; when combined with other risk factors like mental health issues or substance abuse problems, these pressures can become even more difficult for individuals who are already vulnerable due to their military service.
Treatment Options for suicidal Thoughts in Veterans
If you suspect your loved one is having suicidal thoughts, there are treatment options available for them. NAMI recommends talking with a professional mental health provider to get the appropriate care needed for this situation. There are also crisis hotlines available 24/7 that provide emotional support as well as resources such as VA hospitals and local outreach programs designed specifically for veterans. Additionally, there are online support groups that provide an outlet for veterans dealing with these types of issues where they can talk openly without judgment or fear of repercussions.
The most important thing when it comes to identifying signs of suicidal thoughts in veterans is being aware of the warning signs and taking action if needed. By encouraging open dialogue about difficult topics like this one, we can help create an environment where veterans feel safe expressing their feelings without fear of judgment or retribution. With the right kind of care and support from family members and professionals alike, we can help our brave men and women who have served our country heal from past traumas so they can go on living happy lives filled with hope for the future.