Military Suicide: Help for Families Worried About Their Service Member

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In this week’s TIME cover story, “One a Day” (available to subscribers here), journalists Mark Thompson and Nancy Gibbs explore why suicides among the U.S. military have reached crisis levels. Every day, one active-duty service member dies by his own hand, the authors note: “The U.S. military seldom meets an enemy it cannot target, cannot crush, cannot put a fence around or drive a tank across. But it has not been ale to defeat or contain the epidemic of suicides among its troops.”

The specific triggers for suicide are unique to each soldier. Each person deals differently with the stresses of war, frequent deployments, separation from family, death of comrades. Many contend with depression and post-traumatic stress upon returning home. There are several programs and support lines for these soldiers, but it also helps for their immediate families to remain vigilant and to monitor their behavior. Even still, many service members fall through the cracks.

Below is what we hope is helpful advice for military spouses, who want to know what warning signs to look for in their service member and how best to handle severe situations. One immediate sign, say experts, is a pervasive sense of uselessness, a feeling that they no longer belong. “What we learn from our families [who lost service family members to suicide] and what they saw in their loved ones, is behavior [in which they] pulled back and felt they were not able to be a useful part of unit that relied on them,” says Bonnie Carroll, founder and chairman of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, a non-profit that supports those who have lost a loved one in the military. “These men and women need to know they are still a part of a unit at home and overseas.”

(MORE: Military Suicides: The Stigma of Seeking Help)

Here, experts offer more answers to common questions that military families face when a loved one shows signs of trouble:

What are the signs of suicide risk to look out for?
There are many signs of suicide, says Kim Ruocco, director of the suicide prevention programs at TAPS. Some key warning signs to look out for:

  • Hopelessness and saying things like “This will never get better”
  • Helplessness and saying things like “I can’t do anything about this”
  • No longer finding joy in things they once enjoyed
  • Angry outbursts and increased agitation
  • Sleeplessness or oversleeping
  • Lack of appetite or increased appetite
  • Withdrawal from friends and family, or suggestions that family would be better off without them
  • History of suicide attempt and history of depression
  • Post-traumatic injury

Warning signs of suicide that call for immediate attention:

  • Talking about or making plans to take his or her own life
  • Putting personal affairs in order
  • Giving away personal possessions
  • Obsessing about death
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Acquiring or obtaining access to lethal means (prescription drugs, weapons, etc.)
  • Engaging in out-of-the-ordinary or risky behaviors

“You should always ask someone if they are thinking of killing themselves and if they are, do not leave them alone, escort them to help, take them to a doctor at primary care, behavioral health or the emergency room,” says Ruocco. “Sometimes a person will deny thinking of suicide despite warning signs. These people should also be considered high risk and be taken for immediate evaluation.”

(MORE: Captains Courageous)

Whom should I contact if I’m concerned about my loved one? 
The first person to speak with is your loved one. Ask your he or she is feeling, says Eileen M. Lainez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Defense. For example: Do you feel as if you could harm yourself? How often are you having those kinds of thoughts? Do you have a plan to harm yourself?

“Keep track of all conversations with a service member who expresses any indication that he or she could harm him or herself, or is experiencing unique or intense stressors,” says Lainez.

There are several 24/7 service lines open to family members who have immediate concerns:

  • Military Crisis Line: Dial 800-273-8255 (press 1 for military) or visit the crisis line online, which provides a chat and text service for veterans (see below) and active duty members
  • Veterans Crisis Line: Visit Veterans Live Chat or call 800-273-TALK to talk with a crisis counselor
  • DCoE Outreach Center: Visit Real Warriors Live Chat or call 866-966-1020 to talk with a health resource consultant
  • Military OneSource: Call 800-342-9647 for one-on-one counseling or visit online
  • Do not hesitate to call 911 in an emergency

Should I alert the military if my loved one is showing signs of suicide at home?
Anyone concerned about a service member for any reason should not hesitate to contact that service member’s supervisor, commander, any health-care provider or a chaplain. “If the family member is looking for behavioral health support, information or resources, they should contact [these individuals]. The earlier an adjustment or behavioral health issue is identified and addressed, the more likely a positive outcome will result,” says Lainez.

Is there anything I shouldn’t do?
Don’t be afraid to be proactive: Ask your loved one questions about suicidal thoughts or plans, and do not hesitate to get help. “Suicidal thoughts can be a medical emergency. Someone who has been thinking about suicide over time can lose the ability to control the impulse. Put aside fears of betraying your loved one or ruining his [or her] career and chose to save his [or her] life,” says Ruocco.

(VIDEO: How Dogs Help Veterans Cope With PTSD)

Should I be more concerned if my loved one has been overseas for several tours, or less concerned if he or she hasn’t?
There are many factors associated with suicide, which make it difficult to point to any one factor as a root cause. Currently, there is no evidence directly linking the number of deployments to an increased risk of suicide. Any warning signs of suicide should be taken seriously, regardless of the number of times the service member has been deployed overseas.

“Combat exposure can increase risk for suicide, especially if the service member was exposed to trauma or suffered a concussive injury,” says Ruocco. “However, about half of our service members who die by suicide have never deployed, so the fact that they have not deployed should not be a reason to not seek treatment.” The 2010 Department of Defense Suicide Event Report found that indeed half of all service members who died by suicide during 2010 had never been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

What can I do to support my soldier and help prevent suicide risk?
Real Warriors, a campaign started by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) to promote recovery and resilience among returning service members, suggests that you encourage and help your loved one do the following:

  • Cut back on obligations when possible and set reasonable schedules for goals
  • Consider keeping a journal to express pain, anger, fear or other emotions
  • Avoid isolation — get together with buddies, commanding officers, family, friends or other members of the community regularly
  • Stay physically fit by eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep
  • Stay motivated by keeping personal and career goals in mind
  • Use relaxation techniques to help manage stress
  • Stay organized by keeping a daily schedule of tasks and activities

(PHOTOS: Suicide in the Recruiters’ Ranks)

There are plenty of mental-health resources out there, but here are a few we highly recommended for service members and their families:

Read the full TIME cover story, available to subscribers here.

20 comments
MargyAgar
MargyAgar

To try to get away from some of the stigma surrounding this issue is the new and proper way too address this issue of suicide, is that the unseen wounds of war deal with mental health which is just as important as physical

health. Pop,

MargyAgar
MargyAgar

MY DAUGHTERS STORY

In LOVING MEMORY OF SGT. KIMBERLY DIANE AGAR...MOS 88 MIKE IN IRAQ-TO DREAM JOB- VOCALIST/ASSISTANT CHOREOGRAPHER US ARMY BAND AND CHORUS-EUROPE (PURPLE HEART, TBI)

ARMY NEEDS TO LEARN FROM HER FALLING THROUGH THE CRACKS. SUICIDE ATTEMPT 9.6.11...SUCCEEDED 10.3.11.......SUICIDE WATCH REMOVED WITHOUT DOCTOR CONSENT (SWORN STATEMENTS)

www.stripes.com/news/us/a-year-later-texas-soldier-s-suicide-still-haunts-her-mother-1.189561#.UFdwmAOy5hw.facebook

kmmcg4
kmmcg4 like.author.displayName 1 Like

I recently lost my son to suicide. No signs of anything. He had meticulously planned his demise. He had not allowed for anyone to find him who knew him when his deed was done. The military due to the government cuts decided he was the one to go. He had made all plans to further his career after his contract with the military was through. The government was able to renig on his contract but if he were late for some affair he would be AWOL. There is a lot of things wrong with the system. The government stole my sons dignity. I also agree that there are problems with the youth that join that are not discovered prior to enlistment. I do not know what the answer is but I know my heart aches everyday and no parent should ever bury their child. I will try to do what is right in his name for others but I am still trying to figure out how to make this right for the remaining military men and women who sacrifice so much. This  will be a long process for me and I would encourage anyone having these thoughts to seek help. my son did seek help but I believe he was misdiagnosed as well as he was being treated for depression and from what I understand he was having severe panic attacks. That is something that needs to be studied further as well. As I stated I do not know what the answer is but there are certainly a number of things our government and military need to look into. If there are any military people who feel the need to speak or just have someone listen, I would be more than happy to try to help.  

Frank_Doghearty
Frank_Doghearty

I would like to hear more about the medicinal "cocktail" administered to all soldiers shipped out.

Also, TIME published an article about a year ago, publicizing the possibility of trained dogs to veterans; dog ownership lowered depression levels, presumably doing the same to suicide statistics.

Christine Tatum
Christine Tatum

Thanks for drawing attention to this incredibly important issue. I would like to introduce you to my husband, Dr. Christian Thurstone, who today was commissioned a major in the U.S. Army Reserves to serve in the 807th Medical Command. Chris is the only psychiatrist scheduled to be admitted to our nation's military this year. You can see his photos and video from commissioning ceremony -- something our family is celebrating with great fanfare this evening -- here: https://www.facebook.com/media.... And you can learn more about his work here: http://www.drthurstone.com.

energyengineer
energyengineer

When breakthrough developments in science and medicine

emerge they face a mountain of doubt from the established “standard

model”.  History shows how long it has

taken for many discoveries to achieve breakthrough attention and application,

e.g. germ theory.  Energy Psychology is

one of those emerging new fields of medicine. 

It is based on the discovery of the energy field(s) that exists in and

around our bodies.  Pioneers like Gary

Craig have developed a method of engaging those fields to achieve breakthrough

results in treating conditions like emotional trauma and PTSD.  Please check out the post from energypsychdoc and also his short video

clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v....  Then check out the documentary:  OPERATION: Emotional Freedom.

energyengineer
energyengineer

When breakthrough developments in science and medicine

emerge they face a mountain of doubt from the established “standard

model”.  History shows how long it has

taken for many discoveries to achieve breakthrough attention and application,

e.g. germ theory.  Energy Psychology is

one of those emerging new fields of medicine. 

It is based on the discovery of the energy field(s) that exists in and

around our bodies.  Pioneers like Gary

Craig have developed a method of engaging those fields to achieve breakthrough

results in treating conditions like emotional trauma and PTSD.  Please check out the post from energypsychdoc and also his short video

clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v....  Then check out the documentary:  OPERATION: Emotional Freedom.

Guest
Guest

Again, though PTSD is what gets all of the attention,  only half of those committing suicide have been to combat. This tells us two things: 1) the military needs to do more to reach out to those with depression and 2) the military needs to address other sources of PTSD, such as sexual trauma. If it would make getting help for these issues as acceptable as getting help for combat related PTSD more people would get help. But what happens is someone takes a first step and goes for help, and then gets freaked out about losing their career or their security clearance. If the military would make *treatment* of depression not reportable on the SF 86 it would be able to get a lot more people 1) into treatment and 2) staying in treatment.

energypsychdoc
energypsychdoc

While I appreciate the story being told, already there is a theme developing in these replies that the article is rehashing the same old stuff.  Large systems move slowly.  The fact is that soldiers are committing suicide because they are in a great deal of pain and they are not getting a sense that there is something that will help them.  Energy psychology techniques are  evidence-supported clinical tools and self help tools that rapidly help soldiers.  

Watch this video for a small taste  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v....   

Places like the VA and others say that these approaches do not have evidence.  That is actually not true  go to www.energypsych.org/research.   They do not have large scale studies that cost several million dollars.  Watch the video - look at the research - if you have an open mind you canon help but conclude the government should invest large scale research on this. Our soldiers deserve state-of-the-art treatment - not yesterday's so-so therapy.

Fredric Matteson
Fredric Matteson

For the past 25 years I have worked as a therapist with over 16,000 suicidal patients on an acute,voluntary mental health unit of a major public hospital. After seeing that many suicidal person, I started to recognize a ubiquitous pattern or though-line that showed up in every suicidal case. I/we discovered that the root cause was NOT about either depression or mental illness or PTSD. We found something deeper. Not everyone with depression becomes suicidal; and not everyone who is suicidal is depressed. Dr. Edwin Schneidman, the "father" of suicidology, did not equate deression with suicide. He referred to the "pain" so frequently described by the suicidal person as "psycheache."  Framing the suicidal "problem" in this way leads one to an entirely different conclusion than basing the discussion on the metaphor of mental "illness." It has been said before: "It is not that they don't know the solution, it is that they don't know the problem."

For more information, visit www.ContextualConceptualTherap...

Fredric Matteson  (ContextualConceptualTherapy@gmail.com)

aek2013
aek2013

 You have listed just about every known resource, and if you examine that list more closely, you will find that there is no help to be found at all.  The current "treatment" for those of us who feel hopeless, useless and a burden is to incarcerate us, thoroughly humiliate and dehumanize us via the use of constant and intrusive direct observation without human interaction, medicating us with drugs that suppress our outward expression of our distress while still suffering that distress (and cause adverse effects including cardiac death), and stigmatizing us as weak, manipulative and malingering. 

If this was a humane and just society, you wouldn't be sending us into gratuitous wars, have us commit and be witness to extreme inhumane acts of murder, torture and aggression, wouldn't abandon us when we return, and wouldn't allow for us to be a burden in the first place.  You wouldn't allow a society to ostracize and prey on anyone.

The only way to stop our suffering is either to embrace us and give us full opportunities to be productive and ethical members of society or to allow us to be euthanized humanely and in a timely fashion.  Having to commit violent acts in order to affect our own deaths to alleviate our permanent and terminal unbearable suffering is just a final insult.

Cybrpaul
Cybrpaul

I am not quite sure, as a mental health professional, why there is such a large doubt about why the military suicide level is so high. Today we have an all volunteer military. The youth of America who choose the military as a profession are not doing so because they want to protect America - that would be valid if there was war on our shores. Rather they want to go to war, whether or not they see active duty. This alone as a career choice indicates a great deal about the volatility of their personality. These are people who are choosing, or feel like they have no other career choice but this extreme vocation. War is an extreme act of aggression towards another, suicide is an extreme act of aggression towards oneself - there isn't a lot of gap between the two. We go to war when we feel hopeless about our options, people commit suicide when they feel hopeless about their lives. The extra ingredient in suicide is the added mix of feeling worthless and without options - this is where effective, typically higher levels of mental health services than are offered, could make a difference in the excalating numbers. This is a very brief answer to the 'why is this happening' question. Paul A. Lewis, MA cybrpaul@gmail.com

Guest
Guest

You are terribly, terribly misinformed.  I joined the military 1) as part of my patriotic duty, as I was raised that we all should do something for the greater good , 2) as a path out of poverty, 3) a way to gain job skills and opportunity that I would not have had access to otherwise. How, pray tell, does learning about computer security mean that I am all about killing people and going to war?  How about instead of pulling these opinions out of the air you actually talk to someone who has served? Oh-I know-you saw a movie and a tv show and now you are an expert.

Cybrpaul
Cybrpaul

 Actually I have worked with Vets and their families for a significant period of time. 1.) few if any academically successfully youth feel military service is their "patriotic duty", 2.) Education is probably the best way out of poverty, of it is focused on young. 3.) If the military is seen as the only way to gain job skills, it is typically a last resort after missing many that came along prior. Further the military attempts to sell the myth that their 'opportunities' will easily transfer to real world jobs and that too often does NOT turn out to be the case leaving Vets feeling duped and disillusioned.

Guest
Guest

and where is this magic money for my education coming from? Oh, yeah, that's right-I got it from the GI Bill, which I was able to complete my bachelor's and start on a master's with.

"Working with vets" for a "significant period of time" is sufficiently vague to give the illusion of expertise without any actual facts. Just because I drive a car doesn't mean I'm a mechanic. I suggest you take your small minded, anecdoctally based conclusions and use them for something useful.

jamaicansarah
jamaicansarah

Thank you for your OPINION however it reflects little understanding about those who serve in uniform. Your lack of understanding highlights one of the major areas of frustration with military members trying to seek help.  These men and women ARE protecting America however the battle is overseas.

Why is this happening? Because people don't have the resources they need, there's a lack of understaing and therefore they can't relate to those who are supposed to help them, and there is a stigma about getting help for mental health issues especially while in uniform.

Cybrpaul
Cybrpaul

 While I disagree with much of your shared 'OPINION', I would expand on your last statement - it is not just a "stigma about getting help for mental health issues while in uniform", there is a significant number of people in uniform who have mental health histories PRIOR to putting on a uniform that didn't resolve successfully.

jamaicansarah
jamaicansarah

And unfortunatlythey will not get their issues resolved as there continues to be a negative stigma. Appears I'm not the only person how disagrees with you.

geral sosbee
geral sosbee

The  military encourages suicide, but if the soldier survive, then the fbi/cia will make sure the vet kills himself:

"means of information war threaten democracy and mankind "

http://www.newciv.org/nl/newsl...

See my reports on those forced to serve today's immoral wars for the fbi/cia:

http://www.opednews.com/articl...

For many persons social media saves the day as a gap filler for lazy/incompetent/fearful mainstream media moguls.Evidence that media covers up police state, usa.

http://www.phillyimc.org/en/no...

http://www.sosbeevfbi.com/noti...

Serve your country in war, return home amp; serve again; then be treated as an insane experimental dog for speaking out against fbi/cia atrocities:CJS, fbi , Police, Mil Intel, UT Chancellor GONE MAD!

UT police create fraudulent 'BOLO' against ME to cover up crimes by UT police amp; fbi:

http://antwerpen.indymedia.org... http://pt.indymedia.org/conteu... Thugs to Me:http://forums.leoaffairs.com/v...

geral sosbee
geral sosbee

Te miitary enourages suicide, but in case the soldier survive, then the fbi/cia will redouble the effort to drive the vet insane

"means of information war threaten democracy and mankind "

http://www.newciv.org/nl/newsl...

See my reports on those forced to serve today's immoral wars for the fbi/cia:

http://www.opednews.com/articl...

For many persons social media saves the day as a gap filler for lazy/incompetent/fearful mainstream media moguls.Evidence that media covers up police state, usa.

http://www.phillyimc.org/en/no...

http://www.sosbeevfbi.com/noti...

Serve your country in war, return home amp; serve again; then be treated as an insane experimental dog for speaking out against fbi/cia atrocities:CJS, fbi , Police, Mil Intel, UT Chancellor GONE MAD!

UT police create fraudulent 'BOLO' against ME to cover up crimes by UT police amp; fbi:

http://antwerpen.indymedia.org... http://pt.indymedia.org/conteu... Thugs to Me:http://forums.leoaffairs.com/v...