Shining a Light on Veteran Suicide

For Suicide Prevention month this September, I would like to share an important guest blog from Tracy Neal-Walden, PhD (Col-Ret), Director of the Steven A. Cohen Military Clinic. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and a retired Air Force Colonel with more than 25 years of experience in mental health treatment, leadership, outreach, and policy.

Tracy-Bio2As a clinical psychologist, the topic of suicide prevention has been a central focus of my practice, research, and overall professional interest. However, as a veteran who served in the military for 24 years, I feel it is important to help shine a light on some critical information surrounding veteran suicide awareness and prevention, which can be a complex challenge for many friends and family members of veterans.

Last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs released a report on veteran suicide and it stated that approximately twenty American veterans take their own lives every day. Veterans, in general, are 21 percent more likely to take their lives than civilians. But what was most alarming about the report is the fact that over the last 13 years the suicide rate among male veterans increased by almost 30 percent, while for female veterans it increased by more than 62 percent.  Moreover, firearms are consistently the most used method of suicide for both male and female veterans.

To understand the reasons behind the increase in veteran suicide, it is important to recognize some of the risk factors related to suicide such as financial issues, relationship difficulties, health concerns, and legal issues such as DUIs. We also know that the risk for suicide increases for someone dealing with multiple risk factors.

In order to be effective with suicide prevention, it is important that friends and family members are aware of subtle changes that may be happening with someone they think may be experiencing difficulty and who served in the military. You don’t have to inquire about the details, but you could ask, “Are you ok? You don’t seem like yourself.” Alternatively, you can just say, “I know that you have a lot going on in your life right now, but I’m here if you want to talk.”  Moreover, it is important to check back in with the person even after you believe that their issue is resolved. This is important because is it often assumed that someone is doing better because they may appear as if everything is fine.

Another important preventive measure, especially for veterans, is reducing access to means, such as firearms.  If you know of someone, who is at risk, ask if they have access to weapons and help them to find a method to secure it, such as giving the weapon to a friend, securing it and any ammunition at two separate locations, locking the weapon in the base armory, if they have access to one.

To learn more about Suicide Prevention and Awareness, check out the following videos by the Cohen Veterans Network:

On Saturdays, September 29 and October 20, we are organizing a team for the “Out of the Darkness” Community Walks to help raise awareness and funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which supports survivors of suicide loss. More information is available here.

If you know of a veteran needing help, please encourage them to contact The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals at (240)-847-7500. We provide mental health services to any veteran who served in the U.S. Armed Services, including National Guard and Reserves and regardless of role, length of service or discharge status. We also provide services to their family members and regardless of their ability to pay.

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