113,000 veterans have committed suicide since 9-11
By most formal studies, over 113,000 veterans have committed suicide since 9-11. This is a particularly stark number when compared to the roughly 6,500 combat deaths which have occurred during the same period. While statisticians debate the percentage of difference related to previous conflicts, or the suicide rate amongst the general populace as a whole, the numbers continue to rise at a generally accepted rate of 18-22 veteran suicides per day. It has reached a level of such magnitude that nearly every veteran knows a brother or sister-in-arms who has taken their own life. Regardless of statistical debate, even one suicide is too many for those who are left behind; often filled with self-blame and questions that can never be answered. What if… ?
While the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, as well as multiple other organizations offer suicide hotlines and related services, veteran suicides have continued to rise. The greatest measure of suicide prevention available cannot be found in an organizational website or hotline; the answer is much closer. It is the awareness and recognition of symptoms such as stress, depression or hopelessness by friends and family, and intervention before the fact. The following excerpt comes from the Veteran’s Affairs website:
Learn to Recognize the Signs
Many Veterans may not show any signs of intent to harm themselves before doing so, but some actions can be a sign that a Veteran needs help. Veterans in crisis may show behaviors that indicate a risk of harming themselves.
Veterans who are considering suicide often show signs of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and/or hopelessness, such as:
- Appearing sad or depressed most of the time
- Clinical depression: deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating—that doesn’t go away or continues to get worse
- Feeling anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep
- Neglecting personal welfare, deteriorating physical appearance
- Withdrawing from friends, family, and society, or sleeping all the time
- Losing interest in hobbies, work, school, or other things one used to care about
- Frequent and dramatic mood changes
- Expressing feelings of excessive guilt or shame
- Feelings of failure or decreased performance
- Feeling that life is not worth living, having no sense of purpose in life
- Talk about feeling trapped—like there is no way out of a situation
- Having feelings of desperation, and saying that there’s no solution to their problems
Their behavior may be dramatically different from their normal behavior, or they may appear to be actively contemplating or preparing for a suicidal act through behaviors such as:
- Performing poorly at work or school
- Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities—seemingly without thinking
- Showing violent behavior such as punching holes in walls, getting into fights or self-destructive violence; feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge
- Looking as though one has a “death wish,” tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving fast or running red lights
- Giving away prized possessions
- Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, and/or making out a will
- Seeking access to firearms, pills, or other means of harming oneself
With respect to veteran suicide; we are our brother and sister’s keeper. Stay engaged. Whether friend or stranger, keep your eyes and heart open. Take the time to talk and listen. Follow your intuition; if you suspect a veteran is battling depression and hopelessness, get them in touch with competent help and services.
For more information and available resources, visit the website below. Additionally, Veterans, Service members, and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, send a text message to 838255, or chat online to receive free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, even if they are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care.
Contributing author PsyWar, CVMA 27-5