March 26, 2017 – The 22 push-up challenge is just one way in which awareness on veteran suicide and prevention can be shared. Many organizations, governmental programs, and local community efforts are rallying behind the same objective – create awareness, educate on suicide prevention, and provide support for veterans and their families.
— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) March 26, 2017
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published its Suicide Data Report revealing an average of 22 veterans are killed by suicide every day – the numbers have changed. According to another VA report (i.e., Suicide Among Veterans and Other Americans 2001-2014), the number has decreased to approximately 20 a day – while a slight improvement, even one is still too many.
THE WARNING SIGNS
It is important to note that individuals handle situations differently and those closest may be the first to recognize distress. These individuals can also provide needed support during crisis.
The VA and the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) combined, provide the following warning signs to look for including those that may require immediate attention (bolded below):
- Thinking about or threatening to hurt or kill oneself
- Looking for ways to kill oneself
- Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
- Self-destructive behavior such as drug abuse, weapons, etc.
- Hopelessness, feeling like there is no way out, trapped
- Anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness, sleeping too much, or mood swings
- Feeling like there is no reason to live, no sense of purpose in life
- Rage, anger, or the need to seek revenge
- Engaging in risky activities without thinking, being reckless
- Increasing alcohol or drug abuse
- Withdrawing from family, friends, and society
If you are a veteran or know someone who is experiencing any of the warning signs, one resource is the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1). Staffed with responders who are specially trained and experienced, this resource connects those in need with confidential, round-the-clock support. However, if a suicide attempt seems imminent, call a local crisis center, dial 911, or take the person to an emergency room. Do not leave them alone.
Veterans and their families are not the only ones at risk. The National Fallen Firefighter Foundation notes it is estimated that suicide is three times more likely to happen in a fire department than a line of duty death. Although research is limited, emerging evidence suggests that repeated exposure to trauma by firefighters, emergency services and law enforcement personnel put them at increased risk. Some may consider talking to peers; however, others may remain silent. Remember that those closest are likely to observe changes in behavior – the same warning signs apply. A nationally recognized resource available 24/7 is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. This lifeline provides free and confidential support to all.
CAL FIRE employees, regardless of veteran status, have access to the Department’s Employee Support Services (ESS) program. ESS provides support for the emotional well-being and mental health of employees and their families, especially during times of crisis or loss. An ESS Employee Help Line (916-445-4337) is available Monday beginning at 8:00 a.m. through Friday ending at 9:00 p.m. and every weekend from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
The State of California also provides a variety of resources to its employees and eligible dependents regardless of veteran status through its Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAP is an assessment, short-term counseling, and referral service designed to aid in managing everyday concerns. Licensed crisis clinicians can always be reached 24/7 at 1-866-327-4762. If experiencing difficulties with EAP services, please feel free to contact ESS directly for additional assistance.
Prevention starts with recognizing that a problem is escalating and/or that risk factors are building (e.g., frequent deployments, injury, length of deployment). By seeking help or getting involved ahead of time, crisis may be mitigated or avoided. Success factors for prevention involve seeking professional assistance despite negative stigmas associated with behavioral health and wellness. It is not too soon to develop healthy coping strategies and to take advantage of available resources.
For more information on veteran suicide prevention, please visit CalVet’s Suicide Prevention page. Resources include, but are not limited to, factors that help prevent suicide, myths and realities about suicide, and more.