By Jake Hughes
It’s been called a plague. A scourge. A crisis. And in the veteran community, many people and organizations are working to end it.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Started in 1975, it is an annual week-long campaign in the United States to inform and engage health professionals and the general public about suicide prevention and warning signs of suicide. Suicide is the 11th most common cause of death in America, with over 34,000 people committing suicide every year. That’s an average of 94 people a day. In 2014 the VA reported that veterans made up 18% of suicides in America, and that’s with the veteran community only making up 8.5% of the total population.
Why do so many veterans decide to take their own lives? According to the Military Suicide Research Consortium, “ending intense emotional distress” was the highest given reason among those polled. “The core of the issue is that it’s not that people who attempt suicide … want to harm themselves as much as they want the pain they’re currently in to stop, and they don’t see any other way out,” says Army COL Carl Castro, who led the study.
There can be many reasons a veteran may want to take their own life, but there are just as many ways they can be helped. The VA’s Veteran Crisis Line is a website and phone number that directly connects a veteran in need with a counselor. The website is totally confidential, and you can even communicate via text or online chat. The website also hosts a “self-check” quiz, to let vets know if they are at risk, and “buddy check” tips to help you recognize the warning signs of suicide, like little interest in doing things they used to enjoy, statements affirming the fact that they “won’t be around much longer,” giving away precious or meaningful possessions.
But the VA aren’t the only ones taking aim at vet suicide. Some veterans have taken it upon themselves to step up and help their fellow vets. Lift For The 22 is a group started by Carter Davis, a vet himself. The group’s goal is to lift vets from their suicidal states by giving them something else to do to relieve stress and anxiety: lifting weights. They offer free gym memberships to gyms all across the country, along with counseling, peer-to-peer buddy checks, and others. “It’s not just one service,” says Davis. “It’s not just a single mental health appointment. It is an entire year for a veteran to turn their lives around towards better health and wellness. We want the gym to be an outlet for those veterans.”
Suicide is seen as the “only way out” by many veterans in pain, be it emotional of physical, but it never is. There is always someone you can turn to. If you or a fellow vet have considered suicide, please contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, or visit their website at https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/. Lift For The 22 can be reached at http://www.liftforthe22.org. Or you can call a Veteran Service Organization, like the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or AMVETS. Please know that there is always hope, and things can always get better.