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Connecting With Veterans Who Have Survived a Suicide Attempt to Identify Signs of Stress
The strongest predictor of future suicide attempts and death by suicide is having a history of a prior suicide attempt. If you are aware that a Veteran has attempted suicide in the past, it’s important to be aware of additional factors that may increase their risk for suicide or suicidal behavior.
Who is at elevated risk for suicidal behavior?
Although risk factors do not cause a behavior or outcome to occur, they may be associated with an increased risk for the behavior or outcome. Ongoing research has identified the following risk factors for suicidal behavior:
- Male gender — suicide rates are higher among men than women
- Previous suicidal behavior
- Recent tragedy or loss
- Serious or chronic medical condition or illness
- Sleep deprivation
- Access to lethal means, such as a firearm or pills
- History of abuse or trauma
- Family history of suicide
- Family history of depression or mental illness
- Family history of substance misuse
FACT: A history of suicide attempts is among the strongest risk factors for suicide. — Department of Veterans Affairs, 2016
What are the signs that someone is in serious emotional pain?
While risk factors may increase the chances that a problem may occur, certain signs indicate that a problem may be unfolding. There are several red flags that signal a Veteran may be in crisis.
Learn to recognize these warning signs of a mental health crisis. If you notice any of the following, get help immediately or encourage your Veteran to do so:
- Engaging in self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse or reckless use of weapons
- Thinking about hurting or killing oneself
- Looking for ways or having a set plan in place to kill oneself
- Talking about death, dying, or suicide
- Saying final goodbyes to friends and family
- Putting personal affairs in order or giving away possessions
It’s important that you talk to someone right away if you have thoughts of self-harm, death, or suicide. You can always contact the Veterans Crisis Line by calling 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1, using the online chat, or texting to 838255. These services provide free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Resources for After an Attempt
- “Information and Support After a Suicide Attempt”: Explore a wide range of resources to support Veterans and their families following a suicide attempt — from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
- “After an Attempt” guide for survivors: Find support for beginning the emotional healing process and addressing suicidal thoughts — from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- “After an Attempt” guide for family members: Discover support and resources for family members in the aftermath of a suicide attempt — from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- “After an Attempt” guide: Access support for family members coping with the challenges that can arise from a suicide attempt — from the Suicide Prevention Council
- Rocky Mountain MIRECC for Suicide Prevention: Explore resources for Veterans, Service members, and their families in dealing with suicide and suicidal behavior, including guides for talking to children about a family member’s suicide attempt
Veterans can also consider contacting their family doctor, who may have experience treating Veterans in crisis or be able to refer them to someone who does. Local mental health professionals, such as a therapist, counselor, or spiritual or religious adviser, can provide additional support.