Suicide among veterans and active soldiers is a big problem. Add to this problem the stigma associated with death by suicide, many of those who are suffering are reluctant to ask for help. It’s estimated that over 22 veterans die every day from suicide. So it’s important to know what the warning signs are and what you can do to help.
Depression and substance abuse is prevalent with veterans, in part because many vets suffer from PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This can occur after an individual witnesses or is involved in a stressful event—such as active battle. PTSD can have lasting effects for years. For some, coping with the symptoms of PTSD can be difficult. Feelings of guilt or shame often surround these symptoms. Many turn to drugs or alcohol to ease the pain or aid sleep.
Substance abuse is often sought out as a way to push away negative thoughts or feelings. However, substances can only make things worse. If your loved one is suffering from PTSD or depression, and you suspect they have a problem with drugs or alcohol, it’s imperative that you talk to them. You may find that they are reluctant to talk about what they’re feeling, so try not to push. Let them know that you’re there to help and listen, and make sure they know that you’re taking them seriously.
Get to the Root of the Problem
Because the reasons for suicide among veterans vary greatly from person to person, it’s important to try and get to the root of the depression or stress. Sometimes things veterans have seen and done affect them. Other times they find that home is very different from when they left.
Military service can affect relationships including marriage. This is a large cause of anxiety. Helping your loved ones figure out what’s causing their feelings can be enormously helpful in figuring out a solution and helping them come to terms with it.
Suicide Among Veterans: Recognizing the Warning Signs
Knowing what to look for as far as behavior is important. Often individuals who are suffering aren’t even aware of their actions or how they’ve changed. So if you can recognize it in them first, you’ll be able to step in and help.
Some of the warning signs of depression and possible suicidal thoughts include changes in sleep habits, isolation from friends and family, talking about death or making arrangements, violent or manic mood swings, changes in personal appearance, feelings of hopelessness, or risky behavior that often include trouble with the law.
How to Help
Ways to help can differ greatly depending on the person, so it’s important to sit down and talk to your loved one openly about what they need. If they are agreeable, help them seek a counselor or therapist, or even a support group that includes other veterans. Sometimes being able to talk about experiences without judgement in a room full of people who understand, can be just the thing to make a person feel better.
You can also offer your own services. If they express feelings of loneliness, offer to engage in a calming activity with them, such as a painting class or going to the theater. Sometimes just having a friend to confide in and be social with can take away some of the pressure of anxiety or stress.
If your loved one is suffering with a substance abuse issue, it’s imperative that you help them come to terms with it and seek help to treat it in conjunction with treatment for depression or trauma. Let them know they are not alone and offer moral support if they are reluctant to seek help.
When it comes to preventing suicide among veterans, the important thing is to do something or anything. It does not matter what you do in many respects, it is the fact that you are reaching out, you are showing empathy, you are showing your humanity.
For all the selfless service they have provided, even one more suicide among veterans, or anyone else for that matter, is a complete tragedy.
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