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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.

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

Risk factors for suicide are conditions, behaviors or characteristics that may increase the chance that a person may try to take their own life. They are:

Life circumstances

  • Being a young, enlisted male service member
  • Difficulty readjusting following deployment
  • Lack of advancement or having a sense of a loss of honor due to a disciplinary action
  • Access to a lethal means of self-harm, such as firearms or medications
  • Loss from deaths and/or suicides among family or community
  • Loss of, or problems within, a close relationship
  • Financial and/or legal challenges
  • A recent return from deployment, especially when experiencing deployment-related physical and/or mental health problems
  • Transition from military to civilian life

Psychological issues

  • History of abuse, family violence, neglect or trauma
  • Medical or mental health challenges such as depression
  • Prior suicide attempt
  • Family history of suicide
  • Impulsiveness, aggressiveness
  • Alcohol and substance misuse
  • 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

Understanding and acting on warning signs

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

Many suicidal people have mixed feelings about ending their lives and knowingly or unknowingly give off signals warning of their intentions. Call 911, contact the Veterans and Military Crisis Line at 800-273-TALK (8255) and Press 1, chat online or text 838255, 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 oneself
  • Tries to get pills, guns or other means of ending their own life

Contact a mental health professional or contact the Veterans and Military Crisis Line at 800-273-TALK (8255) and Press 1, chat online or text 838255 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
  • Withdrawal 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 alone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts.
  • 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 them on the line while you or someone else calls 911 or contacts the Veterans and Military Crisis Line at 800-273-TALK (8255) and Press 1, chat online or text 838255. 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.

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