One question could save a life. Would you ask it?

“Are you thinking of suicide?”


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“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.

Author

VAntagePoint Contributor

— VAntage Point Contributors provide insight and perspective on a wide range of Veterans issues. If you’d like to contribute a story to VAntage Point, learn how you can submit a guest blog at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/how-to-submit-a-guest-post/

Comments

  1. Anne Westrup    

    I just now, after writing all below see this is a reply chain, but i don’t know how to get this message into the “mainstream op/ed” area.

    perhaps a person should be allowed to make the decision for him or her self. More progressive (and realistic) countries don’t jump to the conclusion that suicide is “bad” “wrong”? There are a few exceptions; physician assisted suicide is allowed in 2-3? states and may be granted when a person has some hideous disease with no chance of recovery and is in agonizing pain, which is great! However, this is mere common sense and yet most people would say “NO” to even that!
    If a person’s life is miserable most of the time and over the course of years, has tried different tx modalities to no effect, i say not only support their decision to suicide, HELP THEM DO IT RIGHT!

    It’s analogous of christian missionaries, going into some “heathen country”, and imposing their beliefs onto the indigenous peoples. I recognize the many good works some missionaries have done, those being related to education (3r’s) and health care, farming, water stuff, things of that nature, but to be so arrogant to think they know better about what “God” is the right one, really?

  2. Thomas A Zaiger    

    Nate:

    Call the VA! I have been a VA Volunteer for almost 10 years and can tell you that there are people at the VA that care. Go to https://www.va.gov/wholehealth/ and watch some of the videos, especially the first one, Discover What Matters. There are many people at the VA that would be glad to help you, but you have got let them know you need help. If you are thinking of harming yourself or somebody else call the Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1) immediately. It doesn’t matter what the disability rating, if it is a service connected problem, the VA will help.

  3. SUNDAY    

    Being happy helps a lot

  4. vickie cloud    

    i read your comments and they are sad. you sound like you dont trust the VA system…to help you because you are only 10percent dissabled. i believe that all men or women who were in the military should have access to the va ..on the subject of sucide…i believe that DNA testing needs to be done for people who have mental illness to diagnose the illness correctly. medicine can be given for a diagnosis that is not correct. we have advanced enough in medicine to treat many mental illnesses and other medical issues, esp in mental illness. once the stigma is erased people can feel free to seek help…many are afraid it will affect the rest of their working life. i have known people who wouldnt get help because of that..they would rather suffer. what the world should know is that several of our presidents had severe depression ie..president lincoln…and another….it has nothing to do with your sanity….that is why to me we need DNA testing to isolate what illness one has…so the correct treatment can be prescribed…i have had major depression and anxiety disorder a few times in my life. i was able to raise my 5kids and move around with my husband who was airforce. NO it wasnt easy….its very hard…i survived it..so i know that some things need to change…esp that stigma….

  5. Bruce Wayne Underwood    

    I hope to become a Medical Supply Technician (Sterile Processing) at the Veterans Administration in 3 to 5 years. I hope to be a wellspring of hope and mathematics at that job. I am “running” for a job with the VA.

  6. Arnold Cabral    

    To who read this Veterans and People but not Federal Employees after our new President Joe Biden takes office email your Senators or Representative contact Veteran Affairs Committee passed a new Disabled Veterans Law who is 100 percent service connected needs a Dentist that knows how to put in G4implants for free because they don’t have one work for a Veteran Medical Centers or have a contact with the Veteran Affairs Administration and if a Disabled Veterans who is 100 percent service connected don’t get the G4implants it will cause real bad Gum Disease and really bad Swollowing Problems plus real bad Heart Failure and if a Disabled Veterans who is 100 percent service has a Mental Illness it will cause real bad Anxiety and Depression and it could cause suicide.

    1. Ed    

      I have seen people collecting names for the VA dental program, but like other VA things, the program never seems to call anyone. I have been in need of a dentist for some time, but cost is just out of control. It would be great if the VA actually starts this.

  7. Nate    

    What does it mean when you don’t have a large intestine anymore. I’m screwed but I’m not a danger to myself or others.

    1. Leigh    

      Nate, I understand the feeling of a procedure gone wrong and the lifelong obstacles it presents. Please try to use the VA with them billing your insurance to find some resolution to your medical complications. I don’t why these type of things happen, but please stay strong at heart and mind. Best wishes.

  8. Nate    

    Health care is the only reason I have health problems. I have some critical injuries. Don’t know if any of the injuries caused by my private insurance will get repaired. I have been fighting for my life sense October. All the medical companies even ones not in my insurance offered me life alert bracelets for months. Thanks but that takes me back to the hospital that caused this!!! Wow…. I don’t know what I’m going to do or where to go if I start having complications, organs fail. All my internal organs are critically damaged from a endoscopy tool. The pain, torcher, rape, and death they put me through was far beyond anything you can imagine. I didn’t do anything wrong. Why. Over 20 years I suffered with twisted large intestine from boot camp. I wanted so much to finally be healthy again. Now the dog will out live me. A simple routine colonoscopy. I would have to die at least twice get rapped murdered and torchered before they will give me that. Now all I have is the VA. At 10% disabled they can’t help me if they wanted to. And don’t even try. I know better

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