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Veteran Suicide: Prevention, Causes, and Resources for Seeking Help

Every day, an average of 16 veterans die by suicide. This is well above the national civilian average and an unmistakable sign that more needs to be done to support the mental health of veterans. Effective veteran suicide prevention, however, requires a multi-faceted approach that takes into account, not just the unique challenges that veterans face but offers compassionate care specially dedicated to the needs of current and former military members. 

So, where do we start? We’re exploring common statistics, facts, and causes of veteran suicide, including myths on the topic that need to be dispelled in order to treat the veteran population adequately. 

Number of Veteran Suicides Per Year and Other Key Statistics

Veteran suicide is not a sign of weakness or lack of courage. Instead, it is a consequence of a complex set of circumstances stemming, most of the time, from the ongoing trauma of military life. 

In most cases, veteran suicide is caused by a combination of factors, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, depression, substance use, and/or general isolation. Whether a veteran is suffering from one mental health struggle or multiple, the end result can be devastating. 

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs 2022 report on National Veteran Suicide Prevention:

  • Number of veteran suicides per day: 16.3
  • Total number of veteran suicides in 2020: 6,146
  • Veteran suicide rate compared to general population: 57.3% greater

Also, key to this conversation is dispelling common myths around veteran suicide, many of which add to the stigma of veteran mental health disorders and make it harder to offer widespread and effective help for suicidal veterans.

Three myths we think are important to dispel:

  • Not all veterans who experience combat develop mental health issues like PTSD and substance use disorder.
  • Not all veterans who experience PTSD or other mental health conditions contemplate suicide. 
  • Not all veterans contemplating suicide exhibit warning signs, and not all veteran suicides can be prevented. 

Adequate veteran suicide prevention programs demand that we set aside misconceptions and treat every veteran in need with the care, compassion, and understanding that we would offer anyone else who is dealing with suicidal ideations. 

Providing Help for Suicidal Veterans

It’s not just mental health professionals who have an essential role in preventing veteran suicide deaths. Friends and family members of veterans, as well as those within the veteran community themselves, can also help with veteran suicide prevention by promoting open and honest discussions around the topic. Included in this is learning the core steps of suicide prevention, such as learning the warning signs, increasing access to care, and reducing the stigmas associated with asking for help. 

The fewer steps that a veteran needs to take to get help, the better. Fortunately, the National Veterans Crisis Line offers 24/7 support, which can help connect veterans with qualified professionals. What still remains, however, is a need for veteran-specific mental health programs staffed in part by those who can best understand the challenges that veterans face. 

For veterans who are not in immediate danger of suicide, more social support and community involvement – plus a dedicated effort to reducing stigma – can make all the difference. This requires a willingness to ask questions, listen, and engage in judgment-free communication, which anyone can do for the veteran(s) in their life. 

Finally, veteran suicide prevention requires effective crisis intervention and follow-up programs. Beyond the Veteran Crisis Line, this includes inpatint and outpatient mental health care, local suicide prevention centers, support groups, and other programs that extend beyond acute levels of care. 

Support for Veterans is Available

At Retreat Behavioral Health, we’ve established a comprehensive veterans’ recovery program with a particular focus on helping those experiencing suicidal thoughts or other mental health conditions related to their experience. If you or a loved one are a veteran in need, we encourage you to contact us to learn about our program, as well as for additional information on available resources.