VETERANS CRISIS LINE: 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1), Text 838255, or Dial 911
I talk about my son, Eric often in my blogs. He serves as a 1st Lieutenant in the Kansas Army National Guard as an Abrams tank commander and platoon leader. While he serves part-time, he has many friends who served or are serving on active duty. It was with great sadness two weeks ago that I read this post from him on Facebook:
22 a day is 22 too many. Though people cannot understand the horrors of war unless you’ve done it, help is out there. It should never get so bad that taking your life should have to be an option. There is soul worth in every single human being on earth. Didn’t know him as well as I could have, but I did enjoy our Army/Marine talking we’d always exchange in. Nonetheless, in this disgruntled military family, he was, and always will be, my brother. Til Valhalla my friend. Rest peacefully Paul.
Paul went to high school with Eric and entered the Marines right after graduation. He served his time and separated, but his experiences followed him into civilian life. Paul grew weary, and chose to end his life.
Do you know someone like Paul? What can you do to make a difference?
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. One thing you can do is understand what puts a person at risk for suicide. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a person could be at risk for suicide if he/she:
- Has a family history of suicide
- Abuses drugs and alcohol
- Is regularly intoxicated
- Has access to firearms
- Has a serious or chronic medical illness
- Is male (although more women than men attempt suicide, men are four times more likely to die by suicide)
- Has a history of trauma or abuse
- Experiences prolonged stress
- Feels isolated
- Is under age 24 or above age 65
- Has experienced a recent tragedy or loss
- Is agitated or sleep deprived
Another thing you can do is learn to recognize the warning signs. Behaviors may include:
- Expressing threats or comments about killing themselves (can begin with seemingly harmless thoughts like “I wish I wasn’t here” but can become more overt and dangerous)
- Increased alcohol and drug use
- Aggressive behaviors
- Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community
- Dramatic mood swings
- Talking, writing or thinking about death
- Impulsive or reckless behaviors
And what if a person is exhibiting the specific behaviors listed below?
- Putting their affairs in order and giving away their possessions
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
- Experiencing mood shifts from despair to calm
- Planning, possibly by looking around to buy, steal or borrow the tools they need to commit suicide, such as a firearm or prescription medication
Consider a person exhibiting these behaviors in imminent danger. Encourage him or her to call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (Press Option 1), text them at 838255, or dial 911. If the person is unwilling, don’t be afraid to call or text on his or her behalf.
If you think a person is considering ending his or her life but has no specific plan in place, encourage him or her to seek professional mental health treatment. Psychotherapy can help a person with suicidal ideations challenge their irrational thinking, validate feelings, and learn new coping skills. Medication can help treat depression and anxiety and lower a person’s risk for self-harm. Use MSAN’s website as a starting point to find mental health resources available to military families. Look under the Resources tab and click on Mental Health & Wellness.
Data released last Thursday by the Department of Veterans Affairs shows the number of veterans taking their own lives has decreased from 22 to 20 a day. While the trend is encouraging, 20 a day is still too many. By understanding a person’s risk and knowing the warning signs of suicide, you can make a difference. Rest in peace, Paul.
Part Two of “Twenty A Day Is Still Too Many” will address how family members and caregivers can help prevent the suicide of a loved one, and the importance of having a crisis plan in place.
Additional Resources for this blog:
Suicide Prevention Awareness Month
Veterans Crisis Line