Suicide rates increased in 49 states, including Iowa, from 1999 to 2016. As overall rates rise, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has reported veterans are twice as likely as civilians to die by suicide.
While the factors contributing to deaths by suicide are far too complex to nail down in simple terms, there are commonalities. Citizen soldiers can experience traumatic stress during their tours of duty that is never fully resolved. For some, the transition back to civilian life is difficult (it’s often difficult for their families, too). For others, survivor’s guilt closes in.
Even though life experiences are varied among veterans, the ways to help follow general themes. Listen actively. Check for warning signs like talking about wanting to die, sharing feelings of hopelessness, sleeping too little or too much, acting anxious or agitated, withdrawing from others, showing rage or exhibiting extreme mood swings.
If you’re a veteran, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reaching out is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it is a sign of strength to acknowledge your struggles and muster the courage to tell your story.
If talking to someone face-to-face is difficult, try the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255, press 1). It’s a free and confidential resource administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. And, it’s available to anyone, regardless of enrollment in VA health care or VA registration. The resource line has answered more than 3 million calls and has dispatched more than 93,000 emergency services since its 2007 launch through March 2018. Calls are taken through traditional phone, online chat or text message.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is also a confidential resource for people wanting to talk. Its veterans web page includes ways to make it through crisis situations, like building and using a support network or making a step-by-step safety plan.
Sixty-four veteran suicides in Iowa in 2015 (the latest report released by VA) is sixty-four too many. Together, we can work to raise awareness about mental health issues among veterans and work toward solutions.
Optimae Behavioral Health Services is here to help and answer any questions you might have. Their highly skilled staff offers therapy and medication management. Find out how to contact us here.