Veteran suicide prevention a point of focus for advocates and caregivers
The fairly recent suggestion, passed from feed to feed on social media over the last few years, has done a decent job of bringing attention to the issue.
It’s that number that’s so shocking: Do 22 veterans really die of suicide every day? And how can a society accept that horrifying and tragic evidence of trauma and pain in its honored warriors?
It’s possible that number’s coming down, or maybe it’s never been exactly right. Or maybe it represented something slightly different. Whatever it is, Veterans Affairs advocates now say we lose about 17 veterans to suicide per day, and whatever the number, anyone can agree it’s still too high.
“The VA monitors suicide prevention data very closely,” said Rainy Reaman, a licensed clinical social worker with Western Colorado VA who is particularly involved with suicide prevention. “The most recent data, from 2018, always with a couple years lag because of how it’s collected, shows about 17 veterans die by suicide every day. And what’s also significant is that an average of 11 of those 17 had not had recent VA contact or services.”
All of that is what Reaman and others are trying to change, both at the national level and locally.
There are so many factors to consider, of course, including what leads to a death by suicide in the first place.
“We get asked that a lot,” Reaman said. “What causes someone to die by suicde is very complicated, and can include tons of different risk factors. What we primarily focus on is what are the warning signs that someone may be experiencing an emotional crisis or suicidal crisis, and then know how to get them help right away.”
Among those options for help is the veterans crisis line, a 24/7/365-active line staffed by professional responders that are particularly geared toward helping veterans.
“It takes only 8 seconds for a responder to answer the crisis line, which is also available through text message and online in computer chats,” Reaman said. “Any veteran in the nation can use the veterans crisis line, at no cost. It can also be used by loved ones of veterans, to get coached in how to help and support the veterans in their lives.”
The Craig Press is holding an event Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 11:30 a.m. to discuss mental health issues including suicide prevention and more. We invite the community to attend to listen to a keynote speaker and panel of local experts speak on this important matter. Go to craigdailypress.com/longevity for more information.
The phone number is 1-800-273-8255, and the website says to press 1. The website is veteranscrisisline.net. Texts can be sent to 838255.
“We really want to empower and educate the communities that our veterans work with and really thrive in to be able to protect those brave men and women who served and protected us,” Reaman said.
That includes initiatives like the VA’s push to help distance potentially unstable veterans from their firearms.
“Research shows approximately 69% of veteran suicide deaths are the result of a firearm injury,” Reaman said. “We know that our veterans may own firearms, veteran homes may have firearms, and this is not a political stance. We don’t want to remove firearms from veteran homes. But we do want to provide what we can, which is cable gun locks we can give to anyone in the community at no cost. The intervention is we create some time and distance between someone in the middle of a crisis and a loaded firearm. It saves lives.”
This lock is a temporary impediment that allows time for an individual to potentially reconsider his or her decision and seek help, Reaman said.
“Very temporary safe firearm storage, we’ve found it’s an effective life-saving intervention,” she said.
As important as anything is awareness, Reaman said.
“We need to know warning signs,” she said. “We look at major changes in someone’s behavior or emotions. Someone in their life who is acting very hopeless, feeling as though there is no way out or making statements like they have no reason to live. A big warning sign we look for is someone who feels like they are a burden, to friends or to family, to the VA or their community.”
Anxiety, irritability, sleeplessness and mood swings are all additional signs that someone might be in or approaching a crisis that could lead to serious damage, Reaman said.
“Identifying those warning signs in a loved one and getting resources or support is a great step in the right direction,” Reaman said, pointing out again the veterans crisis line as one of those resources. “Someone making statements that they’re going to harm themselves or have harmed themselves, that’s a true-blue emergency. Skip the crisis line and call 911. But there are subtle warning signs to look out for, too.”
The veteran population, by nature of their experience and training and personal identity, can be harder to reach with these sorts of conversations than some other populations, Reaman said.
“It’s sometimes harder for our veterans or service members to seek help, because they are the helpers,” she said. “That’s their culture, their training. Now it’s time — I like to look at it as a community. We have that responsibility to protect those brave men and women who served through knowing warning signs, through knowing about the crisis line. As a friend or loved one, we should make sure their firearms are secured until the crisis is abated.”
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