The Veterans Administration released a report in 2017 that estimated suicide rates among military veterans to be 22 deaths daily or an average of one every 65 minutes. This was a wake-up call to the VA and the nation that the country needs to do more to protect those who serve in the defense of freedom.
While the VA study was a jolt, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise considering the suicide epidemic in the United States. Suicide is now the leading cause of external death in our country. In 2009, an American committed suicide every 16 minutes totaling almost 37,000 suicides for the year. This is a tragedy that devastates families and
communities across our land. The military is no exception.
Some might be tempted to blame the high op-tempo or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for deaths by suicide in the military, but they’d be wrong. Roughly half of those who have taken their own lives have never deployed or been deployed downrange.
While many believe the holiday season starting with Thanksgiving and ending after New Year’s is a high risk time for suicide, it is often missed that the spring is also a time when a high number of completed suicides, gestures or ideations occur.
So what is a common element in all reported cases of completed suicides, gestures and ideations? The use of alcohol is one major common denominator. It’s those few extra brews that put one at greater risk, because one of the strongest predictors of suicide is substance use and abuse.
Substance use is so important in predicting suicide that the Center of Disease Control asserts it is only behind major depression as a risk factor for suicide. That should make us pause and think before we drink too much or allow others to go overboard when drinking.
So what can you do for yourself and your fellow warriors? Keep a “weather eye” on yourself and your friends when drinking and take time to listen to one another. Under the influence of alcohol, depression rises and inhibition lessens.
This makes it easier for someone who may be suffering from a sense of hopelessness to think the only way out of the pain is to end their life. It’s not and you can help them if you choose to.
You’ve heard in training when it comes to suicide, you’re a first responder. That’s true 365 days of the year. So, stay alert to the signs someone may be thinking about suicide. If you think they might be, take the time to do the simplest and most effective thing you can do and ask them if they’re thinking about suicide. If they’re not, you might be embarrassed for asking the question. In reality, they’re going to appreciate your concern. If they are thinking about suicide, that one simple question might be first step in saving a life. Semper Fi.