Service members put their life on the line to protect our country. But serious risks may lurk in everyday life for some with intense trainings or as the pace of military life suddenly gets faster and for prolonged periods. And that can be even harder and more confusing to deal with as a loved one.
Suicide is a serious issue in the military. Significant life changes, stress and unique challenges of military life can make service members feel isolated, and some may be at greater risk for suicide than others.
You can make a difference in a loved one’s life by understanding when a service member is most at risk and knowing where to turn for help.
Times when a service member can feel added isolation or stress
As part of their network of support, it’s important to be aware of the moments in a service member’s life that can add stress on their mind or body. Service members do not have to be diagnosed with PTSD to be at risk for harming themselves.
Mental health issues can happen to anyone, at any time. Here are some points in a service member’s life when they can feel especially alone, agitated or anxious:
- Around times of deployment or difficulty readjusting following deployment
- Loss of a family member, friend or fellow service member
- Career setbacks or disciplinary actions
- Difficulty in a marriage or family life
- Transitioning from military to civilian life
- Financial difficulty
- Major life changes
Some ways to be there for your service member in trying times
As a loved one, you know your service member best. Trust your instincts and talk to them if you think they may be having suicidal thoughts.
- Mention the signs that prompted you to talk to them. Stay calm and let them know you are here to help.
- Do not counsel them yourself. Ask questions and listen – but encourage them to get professional help if there is a threat.
- Communication needs to be mostly listening, but ask direct questions without being judgmental, such as:
- “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
- “Have you ever wished you were dead or wished you could go to sleep and not wake up?”
- “Have you ever tried to end your life?”
- “Do you think you might try to kill yourself today?”
Resources and mental health help are available
Knowing the risk factors, warning signs and where to turn is the best thing you can do for your service member. Support is available 24/7 both for your loved one in distress and yourself. If someone you know is suicidal or in a state of crisis, the Military Crisis Line/Veterans Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day (1-800-273-8255 and Press 1). Crisis experts are available via online chat or text (838255). Or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
It’s important to take care of yourself when supporting someone through a hard time. If you also need support, contact the Lifeline.
You can learn more about suicide prevention through the Defense Suicide Prevention Office.