There are many signs and clues that an individual may be experiencing suicidal thoughts. Some of these include changes in behavior and attitude such as sleeping more or less, expressing increased irritability or agitation, increase in substance use, talking about death or dying, or expressing an overall sense of hopelessness. But what happens if your loved one ISN’T showing any signs or clues of suicidal behavior? This question came up in a recent training specifically targeting Veterans because many of our Veterans tend to suffer in silence. Many Veterans don’t actually display any obvious suicidal behaviors. What do we do then?
This is when knowledge of a person’s background and experiences can come in handy—specifically, being able to recognize risk factors that may elevate a person’s chances of having suicidal thoughts and feelings. These risk factors often include adverse experiences such as abuse, trauma, neglect, or even seemingly less traumatic experiences such as the loss of a job or poor job performance, financial issues, relationship issues, or, for our military men and women, combat experience specifically.
So, if our military men and women are less likely to display suicidal behaviors—how can we protect them? The answer is simpler than people may think: reducing their access to lethal means.
Many suicides happen during a short-term crisis. In fact, studies indicate that 24% of suicides happen within five minutes of the initial suicidal thought while 71% happen within one hour of the initial suicidal thought. If we know our loved ones have experienced a traumatic event such as abuse or combat, we can take steps to help keep them safe by being proactive with access to lethal means. Utilizing safety measures such as gun locks or safes, removing excess abuse-prone drugs from the home, and limiting access to ligatures and sharps can help to keep those loved ones safe. Specifically encouraging safety surrounding firearms and firearm storage among our Veterans has shown to have the greatest impact on increasing time between an individual’s access to their gun and their initial suicidal thought.
If you are or know of a combat Veteran who may be struggling with their mental health (pro tip: most of them are!), reach out and express your desire for a plan to keep them safe. Your desire to keep them safe, the social connection you display, and the action steps to reduce their access to lethal means can have the greatest impact on keeping our Veteran loved ones safe from suicide.
Author: Samantha Bunker, Health Educator-Trainer for NCHP