As the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Suicide Prevention Awareness Month marches on in September, we would like to shine the spotlight on a very important and heartbreaking issue – suicide among those who have served our country.
Military service members and veterans face many stressors reintegrating into the world they left behind. They may struggle with money, finding a job, wrecked or strained family relationships, and alcohol and drug addiction. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and/or traumatic brain injury.
PRMS is committed to supporting service members and veterans. On the home front, the company has produced a military suicide prevention resource booklet and also supports “Give an Hour,” a nonprofit that provides free mental health services to U.S. military personnel and families.
These and other projects are all part of PRMS’ 12-plus year “Support the Troops” initiative which, among other things, also sent care packages to U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The mental health needs of the servicemen and servicewomen who have served our country are strikingly apparent,” said Stephen Sills, PRMS Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “We applaud groups working to reduce the stigma associated with mental health by reaching out to members of the armed forces in their time of need. Those who know a soldier or veteran may be the first to recognize signs of emotional distress and can help a person reach out for support well before the risk of suicide.”
A recent study found that despite what you might think, military suicides are more likely to occur after a member leaves the service rather than during active deployment.
A July 2015 study published in JAMA Psychiatry also found that the likelihood of suicide increases if the person’s service time was less than four years. The study looked at records of more than 3.9 million active and reserve duty members from Oct. 2001 to Dec. 2007.
Suicide rates were similar for those deployed and those not – about 18.86 and 17.76 – respectively. However, after leaving the service, the number jumped to about 26.06, and for those who served less than a year, was a sobering 48.04. Members who received a dishonorable discharge were also more likely to commit suicide than those who had an honorable separation.
Dishonorable discharges may be related to mental health risk factors, according to Dr. Christine Moutier MD, Chief Medical Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In a statement, Dr. Moutier said service members with mood or substance abuse disorders may be seen as “rule-breakers” or “not being able to keep their behavior in check,” which can lead to discharge. She added that the findings highlight, “the need for us to pay closer attention to what happens when people leave the military.”
Here are some resources that can help when dealing with unique challenges members of the military face:
The VA’s Veterans Crisis Line (800-273-8255), is a free, confidential, 24-hour hotline for veterans, families and friends. Since its inception in 2007, the crisis line has fielded more than 1.25 million calls. Callers can speak with someone, send a text or start an online chat. Many responders are veterans themselves.
The Soldiers Project provides a safety net of psychological care for post-9/11 Veterans – and their loved ones – regardless of their discharge status. It offers counseling by licensed professional mental health therapists.
PRMS’s risk management team has produced “Military Suicide Prevention Resources,” a booklet that includes articles and materials from various sources available in a convenient, online format. It also includes “Practical Pointers for Managing Suicidal Patients.”
Give an Hour has a national network of nearly 7,000 volunteer psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and others who provide counseling to troops and families.
The U.S. Department of Defense’s National Center for Telehealth & Technology has mobile applications and healthcare resources for service members, veterans and families who need psychological help and traumatic brain injury care.
Since 2004, PRMS staff have supported service members in Afghanistan and Iraq by sending care packages and letters. The project began when Melanie Smith, Senior Vice President of Client Relations, learned from Margo Adams, Executive Director of the Florida Psychiatric Society, that her U.S. Marine son was being deployed to Afghanistan. Smith asked for a list of names of soldiers who were not receiving letters or care packages from home. Before long, the project took off.
Over the years, PRMS staff have ponied up funds for postage and items to ship and spent lunch breaks packing boxes with stress relievers like Slinky toys, water balloons and yo-yos, candies and reading material such as popular fitness magazines. The program was expanded to include community members, including elementary school children who enthusiastically penned cards and letters.
At PRMS, we thank the dedicated psychiatrists and other mental health professionals who care for our troops.
Suicide isn’t an easy subject to talk about. But as we usher in the fall, PRMS welcomes the opportunity to promote increased awareness about how to connect members of the military, veterans and their families with mental health care. At the end of the day, it just may save a life.