September is National Suicide Awareness Month, a time to help raise awareness and get engaged in the conversation about suicide. All month, organizations, mental health advocates, and community groups across the country come together to help promote suicide prevention and awareness. This is extremely important, as suicide remains a serious public health issue. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for nearly 48,000 deaths in 2020. However, one important aspect of suicide awareness month that often goes overlooked is veteran suicide awareness.
Service veterans face regular challenges and trauma that civilians may never fully understand. As a result, the rates of suicide among veterans have continued to climb faster than that of nonveterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that there was an average of 18 suicides per day among veterans in 2018. That year, the department reported that there were a total of 6,435 veterans who lost their lives due to suicide. That’s nearly 14% of all suicides in the U.S.
When compared to the nonveteran population, those same statistics are vastly different. While there are more suicides among nonveterans, the rate at which they occur is significantly lower. The age-adjusted suicide rate for nonveterans in 2018 was 13.42 per 100,000 individuals. Among veterans, the age-adjusted suicide rate in 2018 was over twice that, at 27.5 per 100,000.
Understanding the causes of veteran suicides is an important step in helping lower the number of servicemen and women who lose their lives every year.
What Are the Causes of Veteran Suicides?
Many factors can play a role in veteran suicides. Military personnel face some of the toughest challenges, and experience trauma that the civilian population rarely faces. Things like combat exposure, traumatic injury, difficulty readjusting to civilian life, and military sexual trauma can all play a role in a veteran’s risk for self-harm.
A study published in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine found that combat veterans are not only more likely to have suicidal thoughts, but they are more likely to act on them as well. This is largely because veterans are more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than civilians. It’s estimated that around 20% of veterans currently suffer from PTSD. That said, the National Veterans Foundation reports that only about 50% of veterans who need mental health treatment will seek out help.
Substance abuse is another factor that is closely tied to higher suicide rates among veterans. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2019 nearly 4 million veterans reported they suffered from either a substance use disorder or mental illness. Many veterans may turn to substances such as alcohol or illicit drugs to help cope with the invisible wounds of war. When this happens, many develop what is known as a co-occurring disorder, meaning their substance abuse is accompanied by a mental illness. This toxic relationship between substances and mental illness can lead many to have suicidal thoughts or attempts at self-harm.
Veteran suicide awareness starts by understanding the causes behind why many choose to take their lives. The next step is to understand who may be at risk, and what the warning signs of potential suicide are.
What are the Signs of Veteran Suicide?
Knowing the warning signs of mental health issues such as PTSD, depression, or substance abuse can be tough. Oftentimes, veterans who are struggling may hide their symptoms to avoid feeling vulnerable. Talking about mental health, especially suicidal thoughts can be extremely challenging, but it can help open the door and make it easier for a veteran to ask for help. Keeping an eye out for changes in mood or behavior can help you identify if a veteran needs help.
- Some warning signs of mental health issues or suicidal ideations can include:
- Feelings of hopelessness, depression, or lack of interest in things you typically enjoy
- Anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness, or mood swings
- Feeling like there is no reason to live
- Extreme rage or anger
- Increased drug or alcohol abuse
- Making risky or impulsive decisions that may jeopardize your career, personal relationships, or well-being
- New or worsening mental illness symptoms such as paranoia, hallucinations, or delusions
Withdrawing from family or friends
Understanding the signs of mental illness is a great way to join the fight for veteran suicide awareness. Always ensure you seek help right away if you notice any of the above-mentioned signs in yourself or a loved one. For veterans who may be struggling with a substance abuse disorder or other mental illnesses, treatment by professionals may be the best option for recovery.
How To Help a Veteran in Crisis
Helping a veteran in crisis can be extremely challenging. However, veterans who may be contemplating suicide need immediate help. Thankfully, there is no shortage of organizations that you can utilize. Several veteran suicide hotlines are available at no cost and are operated by nonprofit charities. A couple of those include the Veterans Crisis Line and the Stop Veteran Suicide Hotline, both of which are staffed by veterans and mental health care professionals 24/7. These hotlines are completely confidential, and any information shared with them is never shared with anyone.
Other organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention both work actively to help promote suicide awareness year-round. These organizations help raise awareness, fundraise, and educate the public about veteran suicide awareness, and the importance of treating mental illness.
These types of resources can help veterans understand that they are not alone and that there is no shame in asking for help. While hotlines and awareness groups can help those who are in crisis, the best way to ensure a healthy recovery is to seek treatment.
Thankfully for veterans in Florida, that treatment is available at Heroes’ Mile Rehabilitation Center.
How Heroes’ Mile Is Helping with Veteran Suicide Awareness
With such a large number of servicemen and women losing their lives to suicide, organizations like Heroes’ Mile in DeLand, Florida have stepped up to the plate to help shed light on the importance of veteran suicide awareness. Located in DeLand, Florida, Heroes’ Mile is a treatment facility created by veterans, for veterans, and specializes in treating substance abuse, PTSD, military sexual trauma, and other challenges veterans face.
Veteran-friendly services are hard to come by. Many of the challenges veterans face are unique to their service. That’s why Heroes’ Mile is staffed by real veterans who understand exactly what their patients are going through, and where they’ve been. Through years of hands-on experience with veterans, Heroes’ Mile has crafted a truly comprehensive treatment program for many different ailments faced by military personnel.
The world-class team at Heroes’ Mile is made up of mental health experts, addiction specialists, physicians, and veterans who know exactly what it’s like to serve. Some of the treatments available to patients at Heroes’ Mile include:
- Eye movement desensitization therapy, also known as EMDR therapy
- Drug and alcohol detox
- Group and individual therapy
- Recreational activities
- Pain management
- Alumni resources for post-rehab
While National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month ends this September, veteran suicide awareness continues year-round at Heroes’ Mile. If you or a loved one is suffering from suicidal thoughts or a co-occurring mental illness, and you live in the Las Vegas, Nevada, DeLand Florida or Longview Texas areas, Heroes’ Mile is an excellent facility that is ready to help serve those who have served.
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