Help begins with a conversation. As a co-chair of the Congressional Spouses for Suicide Prevention and Education, I’m taking the opportunity this Veteran’s Day to begin a conversation about the problem of suicide among our military, veterans and their families.
It is important we recognize suicide and address it as a public health crisis, and that is why I am working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to help raise awareness of this hard-to-talk-about issue. Suicide is currently the sixth leading cause of death in Alaska and an estimated 20 percent of those who complete suicide are veterans. Being aware of suicide risk factors and warning signs is the first step. We can make a difference by knowing the immediate protective actions that can help save a life.
The suicide risk factors for military personnel are: major depression (feeling down in a way that impacts your daily life); problems with alcohol or drugs; impulsivity and aggression, especially along with a mental disorder; or a previous suicide attempt. A family history of suicide attempt or mental disorders can also be a risk factor. In addition to these, military personnel may suffer from other contributing factors such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
The warning signs of suicide can include talking or writing about death; expressing hopelessness; feeling humiliated, trapped or desperate; and losing interest in regular activities or losing the ability to experience pleasure. Other warning signs include experiencing insomnia, intense anxiety or panic attacks, being in a state of extreme agitation or intoxication, becoming socially isolated, and withdrawing from loved ones. Finally, looking for a way to hurt or kill oneself such as hoarding medicine, purchasing a new firearm when depressed, or searching online for suicide methods are significant warning signs.
What can you do if you observe these warning signs? Take action. Do not leave him or her alone. Remove any lethal means for suicide. Escort the suicidal person to a walk-in clinic or emergency room. A simple conversation expressing your concerns for the person is a great first step.
If someone is in immediate need, the Veterans Crisis Line connects you to a qualified, caring responder. Veterans and their family members can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat on line 24-7 at veteranscrisisline.net, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support.
Our military personnel, veterans and their families routinely put our lies ahead of theirs. Let’s honor them Veteran’s Day by learning how we can help prevent another death from suicide.
Deborah Bonito, wife of Sen. Mark Begich, is co-chair of Congressional Spouses for Suicide Prevention and Education. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is the nation’s leading not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy, and to reaching out to people with mental disorders and those impacted by suicide.