By Jessica Hower
Thursday, September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day, part of the weeklong observation of National Suicide Prevention Week. As part of this movement, Hope For The Warriors® is dedicated to the prevention of suicide within the military population.
During the month of September, we will share stories and information related to our commitment to end suicide among our veterans and service members. We ask that you help us bring awareness to suicide by joining our efforts to fight the stigma, provide support, and continue education on the needs of our service members, veterans, and military families.
Suicidal behavior is most likely to occur with the combination of three factors: believing one does not belong, believing one is a burden, and possessing the ability to enact lethal self-injury.
–Not belonging is a sense that one is not an integral part of a family or other valued group.
–Being a burden is the view that one’s existence makes no meaningful contribution to the world and has become a burden to family, friends, and/or society, and that their loved ones would be better off without them.
–And the third factor is the ability to enact lethal self-injury (1): many veterans own personal firearms and/or have access to other lethal means such as prescription medication.
According to the Department of Defense Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide by Members of the Armed Forces, more than 1,300 active duty service members died by suicide from 2006 to 2010, with the highest numbers belonging to the Army and Marine Corps. (2) And studies estimate that 8,000 veterans die by suicide each year, or approximately 22 each day. (3)
Every completed suicide leaves many survivors behind to pick up the pieces and try to make sense of the situation. These loved ones are often left with feelings of guilt and shame. Family members and friends may question whether they could have prevented the suicide or whether they are somehow to blame. Immediate family members may also face unexpected financial burdens including funeral expenses and loss of expected income or potential income of the person they lost.
While there is no typical suicide victim, the most common risk and protective factors are listed in the table below:
Effective mental health care
Connectedness to supportive individuals, family, community, and social institutions
Coping and problem-solving skills
Plans, hopes, and goals for the future
High level of impulse control
Cultural/religious beliefs which discourage suicide
A desire to live
Hope that negative feelings will get better
Models of people who have coped with depression
Prior suicide attempt(s)
Loss of relationships, security, status, health or functions/abilities
Access to lethal means (weapons, medications)
Feeling angry, anxious, sad or depressed most of the time
Lack of social support
Having no sense of belonging
Neglecting personal welfare and physical appearance
Increased alcohol or drug use
Sleeping too little or too much
Barriers to accessing health care, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment
Influence of others who have died by suicide
History of child abuse or maltreatment
History of impulsive behavior
Seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means
Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide
Threatening to hurt or kill oneself
Feeling hopeless, helpless, worthless, no sense of purpose in life
Dramatic mood changes
Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
Withdrawing or isolating from others
Talking about being a burden to others
Suddenly happier and calmer, especially after a period of depression or sadness
Giving away prized possessions, making arrangements
But there is HOPE and help available! If you or a loved one is at risk, please utilize the following resources.
Veterans Crisis Line (available 24/7)
1-800-273-TALK (8255) then press 1
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
For immediate crisis, go to your nearest emergency room or call 911.
For Suicide Prevention Week and beyond, Hope For The Warriors® understands the importance of our shared responsibility to turn awareness into action. To honor the 22 veterans who die by suicide each day, we invite you to make a $22 donation to collectively impact the lives of veterans who need our help. Also consider a recurring monthly donation to support military families throughout the year.
As always, thank you for joining in our mission to restore self, family, and HOPE.
(1) Van Orden, K.A., Witte, T.K., Cukrowicz, K.C., Braithwaite, S.R., Selby, E.A., Joiner, T.E. (2010). The interpersonal theory of suicide. Psychology Review, 117(2), 575-600. doi: 10.1037/a0018697
(2) Langford, L., Litts, D. & Pearson, J. (2013). Using science to improve communications about suicide among military and veteran populations: Looking for a few good messages. The American Journal of Public Health, 103(1), 31-38. doi: 10.2105/AJPH. 2012.300905
(3) Kemp, J., & Bossarte, R. (2012). Suicide data report. Washington, DC: Department of Veterans Affairs; 2013.