In September, our nation commemorates Suicide Prevention Month. Led by the Services and the Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO), the body that oversees DoD suicide prevention efforts, the Department is engaging in a variety of events and activities to raise awareness of the importance of help-seeking and to foster a resilient and ready force.
This ranges from holding exhibits and forums at the Pentagon to featuring public service announcements, “fun” runs, and suicide prevention events at military installations across the country and worldwide. Initiatives ultimately reach everyone in the DoD family, from chaplains, commanders and civilians to military spouses and the National Guard and Reserve.
The Department takes suicide prevention very seriously, and the loss of one person to suicide is one too many. The suicide rate for active duty Service members increased from 2001 to 2009, and while essentially level in 2010 and 2011, it again trended upwards in 2012. DSPO and its partners have tackled this critical problem by focusing on several issues.
This includes evaluating suicide prevention programs and increasing data fidelity, as well as reducing stigma and access to lethal means. The Department is also evaluating training and access to care, standardizing death investigations, and developing a comprehensive research strategy.
An important part of the DoD work led by DSPO is issuing new policy. On June 18, 2013, DoD issued a comprehensive suicide prevention policy that assigns responsibilities to leaders across the Department to collaborate closely to prevent military suicide.
Causes of Death by Suicide
The causes of suicide are complex, and there isn’t a single reason why Service members decide to end their lives. Some Service members are coping with stress or challenges faced during civilian life, while others may experience difficulties in their relationships, have financial problems, or may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Service members considering suicide often show signs of:
- Anxiety or agitation
- Rage or anger
Suicide warning signs vary for Service members, as their behavior may be dramatically different from their normal behavior, or they may appear to be actively contemplating or preparing for a suicidal act.
Warning signs can include:
- Mood swings and violent behavior
- Withdrawing from social activities
- Losing interest in hobbies, work or school
- Engaging in risky activities
- Giving away prized possessions
- Putting affairs in order and/or making a will
The presence of the following signs requires immediate attention:
- Thinking about hurting or killing oneself
- Looking for ways to kill oneself
- Seeking access to weapons
- Talking about death, dying or suicide
- Self-destructive behavior such as abusing drugs and alcohol
Getting Crisis Support
If you are a Service member in crisis, or know a Service member who is, you can obtain help by contacting the Military Crisis Line. Caregivers, family members and other loved ones are often the first to realize a Service member may be in crisis and also can obtain 24/7 confidential support from the Military Crisis Line by calling 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1), sending a text to 838255 or chatting on-line at www.MilitaryCrisisLine.net.
Responders at the Military Crisis Line are specially trained to help Service members get connected to care. The service is staffed by caring, qualified responders from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), many of whom were in the military. Other resources are also available at www.suicideoutreach.org, including a guide to help military families handle crisis.
During Suicide Prevention Month—and every month—it is critical that you help your friend, battle buddy or family member who has behavioral health problems or who may be in crisis. Seeking help is a sign of strength.