Counselor helps a service member struggling with depression.

When a Service Member May Be at Risk for Suicide

Suicide prevention is a serious issue for service members and their loved ones. Stress that never seems to let up can affect anyone, and some service members may be at greater risk for suicide than others. Factors may include:

  • Being a young, unmarried male of low rank
  • A recent return from deployment, especially when experiencing health problems
  • Lack of advancement
  • A sense of a loss of honor
  • Heavy drinking or other substance use problems
  • Mental health problems

National Guard members and reservists are of special concern because they often live in areas with limited access to health care services. Knowing when a person is at risk and recognizing the warning signs can help you take action to possibly prevent a suicide and make sure the person gets help.

Understanding suicide risk factors

As a community member, family member or close friend, you may recognize the signs and changes in your service member’s behavior, and that puts you in a position to offer help. Things to look for include:

Life circumstances

  • Access to a lethal means of self-harm
  • Suicides within the family or community
  • Career setbacks, disciplinary actions or loss of a job
  • Loss of, or problems within, a close relationship
  • Financial problems
  • Difficulty readjusting following deployment

Psychological issues

  • History of abuse, family violence or trauma
  • Medical or mental health problems such as depression
  • Prior suicide attempt
  • Impulsiveness, aggressiveness
  • Alcohol and substance use disorder
  • Severe or prolonged stress or combat-related psychological injuries
  • Overwhelming grief from a loss (death of a loved one, divorce, disabling injury, etc.)

Cultural issues

  • Limited access to health care
  • Religious beliefs that support suicide as a solution; negative attitudes toward getting help
  • Limited social and familial support

Acting on warning signs

Many suicidal people have mixed feelings about ending their lives, and, consciously or subconsciously, give off signals warning of their intentions. Call 911 or seek immediate help from an emergency room or mental health care provider if the service member:

  • Talks or writes about suicide, death or ways to die
  • Threatens to hurt or kill him or herself
  • Tries to get pills, guns or other means of ending his or her own life

Contact a mental health professional or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-TALK (8255), if you see any of these warning signs:

  • Sudden or dramatic changes in mood or behavior, including reckless or risky behaviors or changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • Feeling hopeless or trapped, saying there’s no reason to live or no way out
  • Preparing a will, giving away possessions, making arrangements for pets
  • Unusual spending
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Intense rage or desire for revenge; anxiety or agitation
  • Increased alcohol or drug use

Keeping the service member safe

If you believe a service member’s suicide risk is high, do the following:

  • Stay with the service member until help arrives. Never leave a person experiencing suicidal thoughts alone.
  • Remove any weapons, drugs or other means of self-injury from the area, if possible.
  • If you’re on the phone with a service member who you believe is in immediate danger, try to keep him or her on the line while you or someone else calls 911 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Ask if there’s someone nearby who could offer support, and keep talking until help arrives.
  • If the service member is unwilling to accept help, contact command or law enforcement.

Learn more about suicide prevention.