By Michelle Langlois and Valerie Creedon
It is estimated that 20 veterans die by suicide per day, but only six of those veterans come to the VA for care. The good news is that suicide is preventable. Approximately 85-90 percent of people who make a suicide attempt never go on to die by suicide. Most suicidal ideas are associated with treatable disorders. Helping someone connect with treatment can save a life.
The acute risk for suicide is often time-limited. If you can help the person survive the immediate crisis and overcome the strong intent to die by suicide, you have gone a long way toward promoting a positive outcome. The first thing is to identify some of the risk factors that can lead a veteran to having thoughts of suicide. Some risk factors are recent major loss, trauma, feeling like a burden, lack of support, legal issues, acute mental health/medical problems, substance abuse, a history of a suicide attempt/s and recent discharge from the military.
Next, recognize the signs that a veteran may be thinking about suicide. These can include: talking about feeling like a burden or death, isolating from their support system, engaging in risky behaviors, reporting feelings of hopelessness, increase in substance use, posting things on social media, giving away prized possessions, and feeling they are trapped, “nothing is going to change.”
Once you have identified a veteran who you feel is at risk for suicide, there are many options to get the veteran into treatment. If the veteran is in imminent danger of hurting themselves, contact 911 to ensure the veteran remains safe and gets immediate care. If the veteran is not in imminent risk and is unwilling to come in and get care, you can contact “Coaching into Care,” at 1-888-823-7458. This confidential line will provide consultation to those who are concerned about a veteran and how to get them into treatment. If the veteran is willing to come to the VA for treatment, they can come to Jesse Brown veterans Health Care System (JBVHCS) as a walk-in and be seen by a clinician, a psychiatrist, and start on medications (if desired and appropriate) the same day. No appointment is needed.
JBVHCS has a plethora of services that can assist the veteran in addressing their crisis which includes a robust Mental Health and Addiction Department, Homeless Program, Primary Care and Specialty Services, Pain Clinic, and Whole Health to name a few. In addition, veterans and their families can call the veteran’s Crisis Line number at 1-800-273-8255 #1 or text 838255. The Veterans Crisis Line is open 24 hours per day, 7 days per week VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.
Finally, we challenge everyone to #BeThere for a Veteran BeThereForVeterans.com. Some things you can do to be there for a veteran is take them out for coffee, send an email/text/or make a call. Offer to make them dinner or babysit their children so they can attend an appointment. It can just take a small thing to help a veteran in crisis.
Michelle Langlois is a suicide prevention coordinator. Valerie Creedon is a Transition and Care Management program manager, and acting Public Affairs officer for the VA.