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Veteran Suicide Prevention: Warning Signs and Rates

Suicide rates have been rising in the United States for more than a decade, particularly among veterans.1 3rd para. 2nd sentence There are a variety of complex factors that may result in veterans or military personnel facing an increased risk of suicide, potentially including combat exposure, sexual assault or harassment, traumatic brain injuries, or mental health disorders like substance use disorder (SUD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).2 military risk factors all 4 bullets Understanding why veterans may face elevated struggles with suicidal ideation and how mental health challenges may contribute can help one recognize the signs of suicide and lower or prevent the act from occurring.

Suicide in Veterans

There isn’t a single cause of suicide among veterans; however, there are a variety of predisposing factors that could lead to it. The suicide rate among veterans is approximately 1.57 to 1.66 times greater than among those in the non-veteran population. 3

Why Do Veterans Commit Suicide?

There are many reasons why veterans commit suicide. Mental health challenges, substance misuse and addiction, homelessness, and difficulty transitioning back to civilian life are all factors that can increase a veteran’s risk of suicide. 5

Mental health conditions like PTSD and substance use are known risk factors for suicidality in veterans.2(page 2), 13 PTSD is characterized by recurring fear or anxiety after experiencing a stressful event.13 Symptoms of PTSD are varied, though many may report experiencing flashbacks, having recurring memories or dreams related to the stressful event, or experience mental and/or physical symptoms of stress.13 Approximately 31 percent of veterans develop PTSD after returning home from combat. 4 4th section personal and social trauma Additionally, 1 out of 3 veterans who are women report experiencing sexual assault or harassment during their time in the military, which can also increase the rate of suicide and the risk of developing PTSD. 4 4th section personal and social trauma, 13

Substance use disorder (SUD), also known as addiction, is a mental health condition characterized by compulsive drug or alcohol seeking and misuse despite adverse health and social effects.14 Those who struggle from mental health conditions, like anxiety, stress, depression, or PTSD may be at increased risk for developing an addiction.14 1 in 10 veterans have received a diagnosis of substance use disorder (SUD). 4 4th section Personal and social trauma The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests that some common reasons for SUDs among Veterans include:5 Substance Use, Mental health, and Military/Veteran Life 1st paragraph

Veteran Suicide Rates

Suicide rates among veterans remain relatively high, with 6,392 reported veterans committing suicide in 2021 alone.6 (14) In 2021, the unadjusted suicide rate of veterans was 33.9 suicide deaths per 100,000, while the non-veteran adult rate was 16.7 per 100,000.6 (14) While general numbers are hard to come by, studies show that the suicide rate for veterans is significantly higher than for non-veteran populations, with veteran suicide rates being 71.8 percent greater than non-veteran suicide rates in 2021.6 (38)

Veteran Suicide Warning Signs

Veterans are at a higher risk for suicide in the first three months upon returning to civilian life.2 trans. To civilian life 1st bullet If you’re a veteran or know someone who is, there are some suicide warning signs you should be aware of.

Some warning signs that Veterans may be contemplating suicide include:7 5th section signs someone may be considering suicide

  • Sleeping too much or not enough.
  • Giving away personal items.
  • Isolating from friends or family.
  • Experiencing feelings of guilt or shame.
  • Experiencing feelings of sadness or anxiety.
  • Experiencing agitation and appearing agitated.
  • Losing interest in things previously cared about.
  • Expressing a lack of purpose in life.
  • Engaging in risky behavior, such as reckless driving.
  • Seeking access to pills or guns.
  • Making a will.
  • Experiencing performance difficulties at work or school.

Veteran Suicide Prevention

If you’re a Veteran who needs support for a crisis or a mental health disorder or you find yourself at risk of suicide, there are ways to get help. The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a 24/7 resource available to veterans who are struggling with suicidal ideation. One can reach the lifeline by calling 988.

The VA offers mental health services, and it may be beneficial to look for a VA location near you.10 If you’re unable to access care at the VA, the VA Community Care network may be able to help link you to healthcare providers who can help you access mental health or substance abuse treatment.

The VA also recommends the following as suicide prevention strategies for families and loved ones of Veterans:12 sections 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7

  • Keep medication and firearms stored in a safe, secure place.
  • Learn about ways to keep Veterans safe on social media.
  • Know the warning signs of suicide.
  • Help the Veteran build a network of support.
  • Find evidence-based treatments for mental health and SUDs.

Finding Help for Veterans

If you or someone you love is searching for mental health or addiction treatment, a good first step may be to reach out to your local VA or a VA representative. They can help you find a location or therapy near you.

If the VA can’t meet your treatment needs, its Community Care Network can help you find specialized care if you need addiction treatment. The treatment directory can also help you locate treatment centers for addiction-related challenges.

You can also contact the American Addiction Centers (AAC) helpline at (313)-209-9667 and speak with an admissions navigator who can explain treatment options and verify your insurance. Don’t wait to get help. As a Veteran, you have several resources to help start on the path to recovery today.

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