“Are you thinking of suicide?”
It’s not an easy question to ask. In fact, it may feel uncomfortable. What if the response is “yes?” Where do you go from there?
In our culture, we often avoid using the word “suicide,” so asking a fellow Veteran this question may take a lot of courage. It’s important to keep in mind that asking the question won’t increase their risk of harm, and it could actually be the starting point of a conversation that may help save their life.
As a Veteran, I know how hard it can be to ask for help. We have a job as Veterans, as supporters, as a community to reach out to those who need it, especially in these uncertain times.
Before the question: Know the signs
So, when is it appropriate to ask a fellow Veteran the question? There are stressful life events that can increase a Veteran’s risk for suicide. Things like financial distress, relationship issues or divorce, transitioning from military to civilian life, job loss or trouble finding work. Also loss of a loved one, retirement, legal difficulties or social isolation.
More so, there are certain signs of crisis to look for. If you or a fellow Veteran are going through a rough time, you can recognize behaviors that may indicate risk. If you’re feeling disinterested in work or hobbies, withdrawing from loved ones or engaging in risky activities, you may need help.
Just like every Veteran is different, crisis warning signs may vary. That’s why it’s important to talk with your Veteran loved one and try to understand what they’re going through. If you notice they are acting or feeling differently, no matter how subtle, or if there has been a recent, potentially stressful life change, don’t wait to ask the question.
After the question: Next steps
What is the next step? You can encourage them to talk about any challenges they’re facing, let them know you care about them. Tell them they don’t have to go through any tough times alone. Make sure they know it’s okay to not feel okay.
Point them in the direction of the Veterans Crisis Line or call together. You can reach the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, texting (838255), or chatting online. Trained responders are available 24/7 and many are Veterans themselves or have Veteran family members.
Connecting with Veterans every day
Suicide Prevention Month is one of the most meaningful times of the year for me because I get to meet Veterans, like you. Even though Suicide Prevention Month was different this year with no in-person events, it was our biggest one yet.
We served content to over 300 million people and connected more Veterans and their loved ones than ever with vital resources. We hope this leads to a greater awareness of the support available to Veterans.
Though Suicide Prevention Month is important, part of our work is to ensure we reach Veterans year-round. Here are some ways to support your fellow Veterans all year:
- Talk with your Veteran friends about safely storing firearms and medication to safeguard against suicide.
- Learn the warning signs of suicide in case a Veteran you know is in crisis. Even if your Veteran loved one isn’t showing these exact signs, it’s important to recognize when to help.
- Show a Veteran you care by checking in, listening, and validating what they have to say.
- Visit the Be There website for more ways to support the Veterans in your life.
If one question could save a life, would you ask it? Be prepared to ask, “Are you thinking of suicide?” You are part of the community that can prevent Veteran suicide.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the Veterans Crisis Line to receive free, confidential support and crisis intervention, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, text 838255, or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.
Matthew Miller, Ph.D., is the director of VA’s Suicide Prevention Program, Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.