I recently read the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) most recent Suicide Data Report. After going through it a couple of times, I felt a tremendous sadness come over me.
There were many alarming and noteworthy points in the report, but the one that made me feel sick was that there have been increases in suicides among veterans aged 18-24.
This cannot continue. Our youngest veterans have undergone more than we could truly imagine. For many, their combat experiences have been plagued with tragedy, which spanned multiple deployments.
What has been much different for them in comparison with many other generations of veterans is that a lot of today’s returning troops are coming home to a tough job market in the middle of a down economy.
Now, we see in this report that they are committing suicide at a devastating rate. Actually, the spike in the suicide rate between 2009 and 2010 was absolutely unbelievable. Suicides in the male, 18-24 year-old demographic increased from 46.1 per 100,000 in 2009 to an alarming 72.6 per 100,000 in 2010.
That trend continued to increase in 2011, with 79.1 suicides per 100,000. Female veterans under 30 have also seen an increase in suicides.
However, the report also featured some relatively positive news. Male VHA users over 30 have seen a decrease in suicide rate. More significantly, VHA users with mental health conditions have also seen a decrease in suicide rate, which is a likely indicator that those getting treatment are getting the help they need.
What everyone should take from this report is that suicide amongst veterans is a very real thing. It is not some sensationalized cautionary tale. It is rather a warning to all of us that when you see someone with warning signs of suicide, do what you can to help them.
Often times, veterans do not want to acknowledge the fact that something is wrong. They want to “tough it out.” We are here to tell you that this is not a physical ailment that you can simply overcome by sheer will. It is a tragic instance in which those who do not seek treatment feel that this is their only way out.
There is help out there! If you are a veteran having thoughts of suicide, please visit http://veteranscrisisline.net, call 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) or send a text message to 838255. There, you will receive confidential support.
Similarly, if you are a family member or friend of a veteran in need, do not hesitate to visit http://veteranscrisisline.net as well! They can instruct you on what to do.
The first part, however, is recognizing the signs of crisis. The Veterans Crisis Line says you should look for these signs of crisis:
Sometimes a crisis may involve thoughts of suicide. Learn to recognize these warning signs:
- Hopelessness, feeling like there’s no way out
- Anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness, or mood swings
- Feeling like there is no reason to live
- Rage or anger
- Engaging in risky activities without thinking
- Increasing alcohol or drug abuse
- Withdrawing from family and friends
The following signs require immediate attention:
- Thinking about hurting or killing yourself
- Looking for ways to kill yourself
- Talking about death, dying, or suicide
- Self-destructive behavior such as drug abuse, weapons, etc.
If you are a Veteran or know a Veteran who is experiencing any of these signs, call the Veterans Crisis Line immediately. Responders are standing by to help. There are qualified support specialists available 24 hours a day, 7-days a week, every day of the year.
We should all do our part to reach out to anyone in crisis! This is a national crisis and we all need to do what we can to help veterans so they don’t become another statistic.
So please, share this post and this information with people that you know! You may not think it matters, but it is very possible that someone you share this with could be the very person who needs it most!
Joe VanFonda (Sgt. Maj. Ret.)