Honor our veterans: Help save a life

Help begins with a conversation.

As co-chairs of the Congressional Spouses for Suicide Prevention and Education, we’re taking the opportunity this Veterans Day to join the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in raising awareness of the problem of suicide among our active military, veterans, and their families. 

It is important we recognize suicide and address it as a public health crisis.  Being aware of suicide risk factors and warning signs is the first step. We can make a difference by knowing the immediate protective actions that can help save a life.

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The suicide risk factors for military personnel mirror those for society in general: major depression (feeling down in a way that impacts your daily life) or bipolar disorder (severe mood swings); problems with alcohol or drugs; impulsivity and aggression, especially along with a mental disorder; or a previous suicide attempt.  A family history of a suicide attempts or mental disorders can also be a risk factor.  In addition to these, military personnel may suffer from other contributing factors such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

The warning signs of suicide can include talking or writing about death; expressing hopelessness; feeling humiliated, trapped, or desperate; and losing interest in regular activities or losing the ability to experience pleasure.  Other warning signs include experiencing insomnia, intense anxiety or panic attacks; being in a state of extreme agitation or intoxication; becoming socially isolated and withdrawing from loved ones.  Finally, looking for a way to hurt or kill oneself such as hoarding medicine, purchasing a new firearm when depressed, or searching online for suicide methods are significant warning signs.

What can you do if you observe these warning signs?  Take action.  Express concern for the suicidal person. Do not leave him or her alone.  Remove any lethal means for suicide.  Escort the suicidal person to a walk-in clinic or emergency room.

If someone is in immediate need, the Veterans Crisis Line connects you to qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Veterans and their family members can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Our military personnel, veterans and their families routinely put our lives ahead of theirs.  Let’s honor them this Veterans Day by learning how we can help prevent another military death from suicide.

Barrasso, Bonito, Connolly and Gibson are co-chairs of Congressional Spouses for Suicide Prevention and Education. They are the wives of Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.). The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is the nation’s leading not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy, and to reaching out to people with mental disorders and those impacted by suicide.