Although suicide is a serious public health concern, it is preventable. You can help by keeping an eye out for warriors who may be struggling. Getting them support quickly is important. So, speak up if you are concerned about the psychological wellbeing of a service member or veteran in your life.
The information below can help you learn to recognize when a warrior may be at risk for suicide and what to do when you identify a problem.
Warning Signs and Risk Factors
You’ve been trained to identify sources of physical danger for yourself and your fellow warriors. You can also learn to identify psychological health concerns that may be affecting service members in your unit or community.
Some risk factors that increase the likelihood that a person may consider suicide include:
- Relationship difficulties
- Financial challenges
- Feelings of isolation
- Loss of a loved one to suicide
- Sexual assault
- Trauma experienced prior to military service or unrelated to military duties.
- Other psychological health concerns.
These risk factors don’t mean someone is considering suicide, but they increase the likelihood. Above all, it’s important to let other service members know you are there for them.
Warning signs for suicide that should be addressed immediately include:
- Talking about wanting to die
- Threatening to hurt or kill oneself
- Planning or preparing for a suicide attempt (for example, buying a gun)
- Making financial and other arrangements for dependents
- Social withdrawal
- Substance abuse
If a fellow service member shows any of the above signs, don’t hesitate to act. Psychological health concerns are treatable and treatment helps. Proactively seeking support is the best way to ensure a positive outcome.
Helping a Warrior With Suicidal Thoughts
Each of the services has guidelines for helping someone at risk for suicide to get care. The guidelines all focus on a similar three-step process that can save a warrior’s life:
- Ask. If you notice someone is struggling, check how they are feeling. Ask if they are considering suicide.
- Listen. Hear their concerns. Assure them they aren’t alone.
- Get help. If they are considering suicide take them to a medical facility or emergency department. In an emergency, call 911. Stay with them until help arrives.
If you are unsure exactly what to do you can also talk to a health care provider, chaplain or commanding officer. They can help.
- Military Crisis Line(link is external)
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Suicide Prevention (non-emergency resource)
- Military One Source: Suicide (non-emergency resource)
- National Military Family Association: Suicide and the Military Family (non-emergency resource)
- American Association of Suicidology. (n.d.). Risk factors for suicide and suicidal behavior I.
- American Association of Suicidology. (n.d.). Understanding and helping the suicidal individual.
- Defense Suicide Prevention Office. (2018). Department of Defense (DoD) Quarterly Suicide Report (QSR), 1st Quarter, CY 2018.
- Psychological Health Center of Excellence. (n.d.).Suicide risk.
- Ramchand, R., Acosta, J. D., Burns, R. M., Jaycox, L. H. & Pernin, C. G. (2011). The war within: Preventing suicide in the U.S. military. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2017). Suicide risk assessment guide.
- U.S Department of Veterans Affairs. (2018). VA national suicide data report 2005-2015.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2017). VA research on suicide prevention.