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Suicide Prevention Resources for Military Families

Soldiers at a fort

Source: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Chief Warrant Officer Philippe Chasse/Released

No warrior or military family is alone. If you are concerned that a service member or veteran in your family is considering hurting or killing him or herself, free resources are available to help your family in this time of crisis. To get help for someone immediately, call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1. You can also use the information below to educate yourself on how to recognize if a loved one may be experiencing thoughts of suicide, and what you can do to help him or her find the strength to reach out for care or support.

Identify the Warning Signs of Suicide

Experiencing a traumatic event is common among service members who serve in hostile environments around the globe. Everyone reacts to traumatic experiences differently, and some service members or veterans may face emotional or psychological challenges such as feelings of anger, isolation, anxiety or guilt following the event or when they return home. These reactions, among others, can be common and expected responses to extraordinary events.

However, for some service members or veterans, these feelings may be signs of more serious conditions, including depression or posttraumatic stress disorder. Warriors coping with these concerns may feel like there is no escape from their symptoms, leading them to have thoughts of suicide or engage in high risk behavior.1

The following feelings and behaviors can all be signs for concern. It is important to seek professional guidance right away if your loved one is:2

  • Thinking about hurting or killing him or herself
  • Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide
  • Unable to sleep or oversleeping
  • Withdrawing from friends, family or society
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use
  • Engaging in reckless or risky behavior
  • Experiencing excessive rage, anger or desire for revenge
  • Having feelings of anxiety, agitation or hopelessness
  • Reliving past stressful experiences
  • Experiencing dramatic changes in mood

How to Find Help for Your Loved One

It can be difficult to know what to do if you think a loved one may be considering suicide. The ACE (Ask, Care, Escort) framework can help guide your actions:3, 4

ASK your warrior about suicidal thoughts

  • Have the courage to ask if your warrior is having thoughts of suicide, but stay calm.
  • Ask the question directly: Are you thinking of killing yourself?
  • Know the signs for concern listed above.

CARE for your warrior

  • Stay calm and safe — do not use force.
  • Understand that your loved one may be in pain.
  • Remove any objects or tools that pose a danger to your warrior.
  • Actively listen for details about what, where and when your warrior may be planning to kill himself or herself.
  • Be non-judgmental as you listen, which can help produce relief for the warrior.

ESCORT your warrior to get help

  • Escort your warrior immediately to his or her chaplain or behavioral health professional.
  • Call 911 or the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-TALK and press 1 to speak with a trained professional right away.
  • Don't keep your warrior's suicidal behavior a secret.
  • Never leave your warrior alone — stay until he/she receives appropriate help.
  • Adopting an attitude that you are going to help your loved one may save his or her life.

All military families can speak to a trained professional 24/7 for free by contacting:

Additionally, there are service-specific resources available to military families, including:

What You Can Do to Support Your Warrior

As you help your loved one seek care, there are several actions that can aid in his or her return to peak performance. Encourage your warrior to:6

  • Try to stay organized by creating a daily schedule of tasks and activities. Cross out tasks as they're accomplished so he or she can have a visual reminder of their achievements
  • Consider writing in a journal to express pain, anger, fear or other emotions
  • Be social. Get together with peers, commanding officers, family, friends or other members of the community regularly
  • Stay physically fit by eating a healthy diet and getting sufficient sleep
  • Stay motivated in tough times by keeping their personal and career goals in mind
  • Use relaxation techniques to aid in stress management
  • Practice and draw strength from his or her spiritual tenants

The stakes in the fight against military suicide are the same as the stakes in combat: lives are on the line. Support your warrior, "Stand by them. We'll stand by you," contact the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1.

Service-Specific Suicide Prevention Programs

Additional Resources

Sources

1Hudenko, W. "The Relationship Between PTSD and Suicide," National Center for PTSD, Department of Veterans Affairs. Last accessed Aug. 21, 2014.
2"Risk and Protective Factors," [PDF 482.84KB] Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Published Sept. 2011.
3Suicide Prevention: DOD Family ACE Card (TA-144-0810), Defense Department. Published Aug. 2010.
4ACE Suicide prevention Program: Trainer's Manual. [PDF 1.8MB], U.S. Army Public Health Command. Published Jan. 28, 2008.
5"Coping and Support," The Mayo Clinic. Last accessed Aug. 21, 2014.

Last Reviewed: 08/21/14
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