Ask Vets Directly About Suicide (and You May Save a Life)

The Veterans-in-recovery in the Confidential Recovery program have been talking about how exposure to the recent events in the Ukraine can be difficult to process. Specifically, how the images of burned-out cars and destroyed buildings reawaken past trauma.  At this outpatient rehab in San Diego, Veterans meet several times a week in a group therapy setting to process their recovery experience and get the support of others.   Operations Manager Jay Wylie, a Veteran-in-recovery himself, says “Checking in with others who are also experiencing these emotions does wonders to alleviate the stress that threatens our veterans recovery.

Support a Veteran in Your Life this Memorial Day

Veterans are also 50% more likely to commit suicide than non-Veterans.  Veterans are at a higher risk than civilians for depression, PTSD, anxiety, and substance addiction.  If you know a veteran, you should check in with them, and express your gratitude for their service.  Also, inquire how they are doing and feeling, and then really listen to what they say. Be sure to maintain a non-judgmental attitude, and give them your full attention.

“Have You Thought About Harming Yourself?”

It might seem scary and awkward to ask your friend or loved one directly about suicide, but the Veteran in your life deserves it.   

“It’s a conversation that needs to be had because, frankly, the Vet in question probably wants to talk about it. Being able to share your difficulties with someone who cares can be a huge relief. It can feel like releasing some air out of an overfilled balloon that was about to pop.”

Plan it Out, But Don’t Overperfect the Deal

It’s smart to put some thought into the moment when you will approach your Veteran friend or family member. You should do so in a place they are comfortable and that you won’t be interrupted. Planning a question out in advance is helpful. Some ways to ask, include:

  • “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?”
  • “Do you ever feel like just giving up? ”
  • “Have you ever thought about suicide?”

 What’s important is that you show that you care, and want to know how they are doing.  Express to them that you care about them and you want them to stay alive. 

Know Where to Send Them for Support

Make sure that the Veteran in your life is aware that there is help available if they are struggling with emotions of any kind. “The good news is that there’s more support than ever before for Veterans who are struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, substance abuse, or any other mental health issue,” says Jay Wylie, “there are more clinical resources available, and they have more tools at their disposal than ever before – and this includes medication, when appropriate.” 

The VA offers an around the clock Veterans Crisis Line that provides help and crisis support – even for veterans not enrolled in its health care network. (The phone number is 800-273-8255.)  Alternatively, Veterans can text to 838255 if that’s a way that they would prefer to communicate. San Diego based Veterans and family can get in contact with Confidential Recovery at (619) 452–1200.

About the Author 

Scott H. Silverman was addicted to alcohol and illegal drugs when he “hit bottom,” and pursued treatment in 1984. He’s been helping others recover from addiction ever since. In 2014, he founded Confidential Recovery, an outpatient drug treatment program that provides veterans, executives, and first responders a private and clinical outpatient treatment program for substance use disorders.