Are Veterans at Higher Risk For Suicide?
Suicide is a significant but preventable issue in the United States. Our nation’s veterans are at increased risk of suicide, with veterans making up nearly a quarter of all deaths from suicide each year.
Suicide is often a very complex issue, but identifying the signs of suicidal thoughts and behaviors can help people get the help they need. Veterans face unique challenges and pressure during and after military service and require compassionate, specialized treatment that can help them move forward.
This article will explore whether veterans are at higher risk for suicide and how to find help for yourself or someone you love. Reach out to the Alamo Behavioral Health specialists now to learn about our comprehensive mental health and addiction treatment programs or to schedule an intake appointment.
Are Veterans at Higher Risk for Suicide?
Our nation’s veterans face many challenges and stresses during their time in service and when they return home. Many veterans face homelessness, mental illness, physical pain, and substance abuse. Some may also live with suicidal thoughts and may take their own lives.
For many years, veteran suicide rates have been higher than those of the general population. About 17 veterans die by suicide each day. Generally, suicide rates for veterans are about 1.5 times the rate of the general population. Veterans who are women have a 2.5 higher rate of suicide than women who did not serve. According to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), women veterans suicides account for about 14 per 100,000 deaths as of 2020.
Young veterans and older veterans are most likely to have a higher risk for suicide. In the two decades between 2001 and 2020, suicide rates for veterans between 18 and 34 increased by over 95%. The rate of suicide among veterans aged 55 to 74 increased by over 58% during the same time period.
What Leads to a Higher Risk for Suicide Among Veterans?
Gender and age can play a significant role in a person’s likelihood of dying by suicide. However, veterans face other challenges that are believed to increase the risk of suicide.
Here are some of the reasons attributed to veterans’ higher risk for suicide.
Veterans face extreme stress during training and service, and many find it challenging to reintegrate into society after service. Chronic stress can lead to physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
More research is needed to confirm the link between low cholesterol and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. However, several studies have examined a connection between low cholesterol and the likelihood of depression and suicide and found a potential link.
Veterans often live with chronic pain after their time in service. Veterans who become injured during training or service or those with ongoing health issues may struggle to function in their daily lives. Chronic pain is linked to higher rates of depression and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and other conditions may cause veterans to develop insomnia. Ongoing insomnia has been linked to higher rates of depression and an increased risk of suicide.
Mental health condition
Veterans living untreated with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety may be more likely to die by suicide than those who do not have mental health issues. These and other mental health conditions are treatable, but many veterans face a lack of healthcare access because of limited VA resources, homelessness, and other barriers.
Substance use disorders
Veterans have a slightly higher risk of developing a substance use disorder (SUD) than the general population. Veterans may self-medicate physical and emotional pain with drugs and alcohol, which can result in a life-threatening addiction. Living with an untreated substance use disorder raises the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
The challenges veterans face can increase their risk for suicide. It’s critical to be aware of the warning signs of suicide and take action to help veterans find the help they need to prevent it.
What are the Warning Signs of Suicide?
People who are considering dying by suicide may have changes in their thinking, appearance, and behaviors. Recognizing these signs early can help you or a loved one get help to prevent suicide.
Here are some of the most common warning signs of suicide:
- Talking about wanting to die
- Expressing guilt and shame
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Feeling hopeless or “trapped”
- Feeling like there is no reason to be alive
- Extreme sadness
- Overwhelming emotional or physical pain
- Researching ways to die
- Having extreme mood swings
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns–sleeping too little or too much, eating much more or not at all
- Engaging in risky behavior, such as using drugs and alcohol more frequently, driving erratically, etc.
- Withdrawing from friends and family
If you notice these warning signs in yourself or someone else, find help right away. You may contact the suicide crisis hotline by texting or calling 988, or you may chat online at 988lifeline.org.
Find Help Now
If you or a veteran in your life struggles with mental illness, addiction, or other challenges, the comprehensive, compassionate treatment you need is available at Alamo Behavioral Health. Our veteran’s treatment programs are designed to identify and treat the roots of mental illness and addiction so that you can move forward into a healthier, more hopeful future. Contact us now to schedule an intake evaluation or to learn about our programs.