If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net

Connecting With LGBT Veterans to Identify Signs of Stress

Learn the specific challenges and risks that LGBT Veterans face, and how to communicate concern to connect in advance of a crisis.

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Download the "Talking to an LGBT Veteran" Fact Sheet

Use this brief fact sheet to help start a conversation with an LGBT Veteran who may be in distress.


Connecting With LGBT Veterans to Identify Signs of Stress

Life after service can be challenging. Some Veterans may have a difficult time readjusting to civilian life or feel lost or uncertain about the future.

While these feelings may lessen with time, for some Veterans they do not. Challenging life events such as unemployment, divorce, retirement, illness, or injury can be stressful and at times feel overwhelming. 

For some Veterans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), stress may be further amplified by stigma and discrimination. Because of these specific challenges, LGBT community members are at greater risk for poor mental health compared to their heterosexual peers. For some LGBT Veterans, the challenges of life after service coupled with stigma may result in feelings of despair and depression, possibly leading to thoughts of self-harm.

These specific challengescoupled with challenging experiences during service, difficult events in civilian life (such as unemployment, retirement, or injury), or certain mental health conditions (e.g., major depression) — can elevate one’s risk for suicide and suicidal behavior.

But by detecting stress in your loved one early on and effectively communicating your concern for their well-being, you can connect the Veteran you care about with help well in advance of a crisis. 

A key step in preventing LGBT Veterans from reaching a critical point is understanding the risk factors and warning signs that can lead to a crisis. That is, what makes someone more likely to consider harming themselves and what are the signs that indicate a crisis may be imminent. It is also critical to learn what factors may reduce the likelihood that suicidal behavior and suicide will occur.

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: Veterans are more likely to die by suicide than their civilian peers. — 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 the 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.

What can help to prevent a crisis?

Researchers have identified the following factors as likely to reduce the risk for suicidal behavior and suicide in a person going through a difficult time:

  • Feeling connected (to a relative, friend, community, or job, for example)
  • Having people to rely on and to share personal experiences with
  • Having a caretaker role (to children or cherished pets, for example)
  • Having skills to solve problems and manage challenges positively
  • Believing in a higher power or having a sense of meaning or purpose in life
  • Being in good physical and emotional heath
  • Having restricted access to lethal means
  • Being willing to seek treatment