Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog provided courtesy of the Real Warriors Campaign. Navy Suicide Prevention Branch is a proud partner of the Real Warriors Campaign. To learn more, visit www.realwarriors.net.
Suicide is a national health problem that is preventable. Its prevention is of special concern to the military community because active-duty service members and veterans account for approximately 20-22 percent of all deaths from suicide in the United States.
Use the information below to learn how to recognize suicide risk. With this knowledge, you can help your loved one get the care and support that he or she needs.
If you think a service member or veteran in your family may hurt himself or herself, reach out for help immediately. Remember that no warrior or military family is alone.
To get help right away, call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1. Please call 911 for emergencies.
Risk Factors and Warning Signs of Suicide
Service members and veterans face many stressors that can increase their risk for suicide. Risk factors include both combat and peacetime challenges, like traumatic experiences and frequent moves. Left unaddressed, stressors can become overwhelming. Service members and veterans may be more vulnerable to substance use disorders and mood disorders because of high levels of stress. Both disorders are associated with military suicide. Other stressors that increase suicide risk include relationship problems, work problems and disciplinary or legal issues.
Some behaviors may be warning signs that indicate a warrior is at high risk for suicide. If any of the following are impacting your warrior’s daily life—or are new, persistent or worsening—you should encourage your warrior to get help right away.
- Talking or writing about self-harm, suicide or death
- Having trouble sleeping or oversleeping
- Withdrawing from friends, family or society
- Increasing alcohol or drug use
- Engaging in risky or reckless behaviors
- Experiencing rage or excessive anger
- Expressing anxiety, agitation or hopelessness
- Showing dramatic changes in mood
How to Get Help for Your Loved One
Each service has a suicide prevention program that involves observation, dialogue, support and action. Examples include the Army’s “ACE: Ask, Care, Escort” and the Navy’s “ACT: Ask, Care, Treat.” You can use any of these approaches to help a service member or veteran. It is most important to recognize when a warrior is in crisis. Then talk to that warrior, provide support and get help to prevent suicide.
If you think someone is at risk, you can:
- Ask the person if he or she is thinking about suicide. Be caring, but direct.
- Call 911 if they are an immediate danger to themselves or those around them.
- Remove weapons, drugs or other dangerous items from their environment.
- Stay with the person in crisis until help arrives.
- If you are on the phone with a person in crisis, stay on the line with that person and use another phone to call 911.
If you or a warrior you know needs help, there are many resources available including:
Service-Specific Suicide Prevention Programs and Resources
Remember, reaching out is a sign of strength. If you or a loved one needs additional support, contact the DCoE Outreach Center 24/7 to confidentially speak with trained health resource consultants, call 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. You can also visit our “Seek Help, Find Care” page to see a list of key psychological health resources.
As veteran Jay Zimmerman notes, a service member’s firearm is “almost like another appendage.” Zimmerman understands military culture and has a love for firearms, stemming from frequent hunting trips with his grandfather while growing up in the Appalachian region. Today he’s advocating for service members and veterans to practice lethal means safety when it comes to firearms and dealing with prolonged stress or psychological health concerns. Lethal means safety–keeping highly-lethal methods of suicide out of reach or less accessible during times of particularly high stress–is an important part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent suicide.
Zimmerman served in multiple combat zones as a former Army medic and his service weapon was essential to his and his comrades’ safety. But after navigating psychological health challenges and losing a good friend and fellow soldier to suicide, he reached a crisis point. His relationship with his wife, with whom he reconnected during the heat of his crisis, drove him toward the decision to seek help. He now champions the impact that taking simple precautions has had on his life, like storing his guns safely so that he can’t make any “rash decisions” when he hits a rough patch. In a recent National Public Radio story, Zimmerman explains that he stores his guns disassembled and separately from ammunition. He’s also made a special arrangement with friends “if things get really bad” so that they can hold onto his weapons until he feels like it’s safe to reclaim them.
For service members, transitions, relationship issues and career or personal setbacks can lead to increased stress and increased suicide risk. In addition to taking the precautions Jay Zimmerman champions, both active and reserve Sailors can work with their commanding officers and health professionals to arrange safe storage of their personal firearms during high-risk periods, per NAVADMIN 263/14.
Zimmerman is now a peer counselor at a local VA medical center and has connected with a meaningful purpose. He travels to speaking engagements and conferences across the country sharing his personal story and encouraging service members and vets to practice lethal means safety when they’re not feeling like themselves. He also coaches therapists and clinical providers on how to productively discuss these precautions with patients.
Zimmerman recognizes the perceptions that may influence a service member’s decision to voluntarily store their personal firearms or practice safety at home (such as using a gun lock). He notes that many are worried that they’ll “lose the gun that [they] carry pretty much all the time” if they opt for voluntary storage. But he emphasizes that this isn’t the case and illustrates how this personal decision can be both empowering and life-saving. His decisions to seek help and protect himself have led to him living a fulfilling life supporting other veterans.
Firearms are the most commonly used means of suicide across military and civilian populations, due in large part to easy access and high-lethality. 1 Small ACT, such as securing your firearm with a gun lock or arranging for temporary safe storage, can save a life. Check out the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign’s new lethal means safety graphics and posters here. Stay tuned for additional products addressing other ways to practice lethal means safety, such as proper disposal of unused medications.
Suicide Prevention Month is an opportunity to reenergize the conversation and set a positive tone for the upcoming fiscal year. Here are three meaningful ways to build community, strengthen protective factors and demonstrate your command’s commitment to suicide prevention:
Connect with your shipmates. Use this month to find everyday ways to make a difference to others. Bringing a shipmate a cup of coffee or sharing a meal together may seem small, but they can have a huge impact when someone is feeling disconnected. These are also opportunities to check in on your shipmate and offer a listening ear. Pay attention to cues that may be warning signs of a crisis, like indicating that they feel like they’re trapped by their current circumstances; are more agitated, angry or anxious than usual; are drinking more alcohol than usual, etc. If you hear these or other concerns, ACT (Ask, Care, Treat). Start by asking if they’re thinking about killing themselves. Listen closely and let your shipmate know you care about their well-being and are concerned for their safety. Get your shipmate to someone who can help: a Navy chaplain, provider or call the Military Crisis Line (1-800-273-TALK, press 1). Don’t leave your shipmate alone and remind them that you will be there to support them throughout their recovery process. Check out BeThe1To.com for additional tips to help someone in crisis.
Get Moving, Together. Exercise strengthens our physical and psychological health, and can boost connection with others; protective factors against suicide. Organize a 5K walk or run aboard your ship or installation in support of suicide prevention and Total Sailor Fitness. Include stations along the route to educate and motivate participants, like a trivia table staffed by the command SPC, health promotion coordinator, drug and alcohol program adviser (DAPA) or other personnel. Use the information in the 1 Small ACT Toolkit to develop questions related to self-care, stress zones, suicide risk and protective factors, and offer incentives to those who participate. You can also set up a Small ACT Selfie station stocked with printed signs and markers. Snap a photo of participants holding their completed signs and email them to email@example.com for inclusion in the 1 Small ACT Photo Gallery. Following the event, collect the signs and post them throughout high-traffic areas in your command to serve as reminders of the simple ways to be there for others and support your own psychological health.
Share Stories of Hope and Recovery. We are all influencing the conversation about stress and suicide and have the power to reshape negative perceptions. Less than one percent of security clearances are revoked or denied because of psychological health reasons. Real-life stories of those who have sought help for psychological health concerns and have gone on to live healthy and productive lives can be powerful reminders that help works. Make the Connection offers testimonial videos featuring service members and veterans that you can share on social media or play during a small group discussion, such as this veteran describing how he got through tough times with support from friends and family. You can also view and share the story of PRC Jeromy Kelsey (Ret.) from the NavStress YouTube page. Be sure to brush up on how to safely communicate about suicide by checking out the tips in the 1 Small ACT Toolkit.
Every Sailor, Every Day starts with US. For additional ways to make a difference and lead by example, download the 30 Days of Small ACTs calendar and share it with your shipmates.
Posted in Suicide Prevention
Tagged 1 Small ACT, ACT, BeThe1To, Community, hope, peer connections, psycological health, recovery, Relationships, resilience, small acts, Suicide, suicide prevention, suicide prevention month