Becoming a soldier is one of the noblest professions a person can choose, particularly due to how risky it is. Those who join the military do so knowing they can become injured or worse in the line of duty.
Unfortunately, many soldiers pay the ultimate price for protecting their country and its citizens. However, not all deaths in the armed forces are active combat related. One of the leading causes of death in the military is suicide among active duty service members and veterans.
Before you do anything - talk with someone who will listen. If you are thinking about suicide, you should speak to someone right now. In the United States, you can call "988" or call "911" if you need emergency response immediately. Many countries also have special phone lines in place to help those with mental health emergencies.
For worldwide mental health emergency contact numbers listed by country - Global Mental Health Resources – CheckPoint
Military Suicides Not New
While military-related suicides are not new, they are becoming much more common. Since 2001, over 30,000 members of the armed forces and vets have taken their own lives.
Many veterans have other health issues they must juggle as well. Heart disease, unintentional injuries (for example - auto accidents), malignant neoplasm, and liver disease are some health problems veterans deal with once they leave their service. But suicide is perhaps the most shocking, with the U.S. Veterans Administration reporting former service members dying by suicide at a rate twice as high as non-veterans.
Why do veterans decide to commit suicide? What can be done to prevent this from happening? How can families help?
Why Do Vets Take Their Own Lives?
There is no singular driving force behind why active and former military personnel may take their own lives. However, some general factors appear to contribute:
Issues With Transitioning Back into Civilian Life
For many soldiers, the biggest challenge is not life on the frontlines but reintegrating into civilian society. The process of demobilization can be incredibly tough, particularly for those who have spent years or decades serving their country. Veterans are at higher risk of suicide when their transitioning doesn't go smoothly.
Many soldiers struggle to reintegrate because they feel like they no longer have a place in society. They may feel isolated and alone in a civilian world they have trouble understanding. After all, in many regards, ordinary life is entirely different from military service.
Many veterans have issues finding employment and experience homelessness. In fact, over 9% of all homeless people in the United States are former armed forces members.
All of these challenges can make it very difficult for veterans to readjust to civilian life, leading some to take their own lives.
Mental Health Disorders
Mental health disorders are also contributing factors to military and veteran suicides.
Soldiers' most common mental health disorders are PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety, and depression. These conditions can be incredibly debilitating, making it very difficult for those affected to live a normal life.
Many soldiers develop PTSD after experiencing traumatic events while on active duty. This can include being involved in combat, witnessing a friend or fellow soldier being killed, or being the victim of sexual assault.
PTSD can cause those affected to experience flashbacks, nightmares, and even combative behavior. It can be tough to cope with these symptoms, particularly when there is no one to talk to who understands what you are going through.
TBI (traumatic brain injury) is another relatively common condition among soldiers. TBI can be caused by various things, like exposure to blasts, car accidents, or falls. Its symptoms include headaches, dizziness, sleep problems, and memory issues. It can be challenging to cope with TBI, particularly when it is not correctly diagnosed or treated.
Many soldiers who take their own lives do so because they are struggling to deal with mental health disorders that were caused by their time in the military.
Those who have been deployed overseas may struggle to reconnect with their families and friends upon returning. This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, which may contribute to suicide.
It is not uncommon for soldiers to develop substance abuse problems. This can be due to the availability of drugs and alcohol while on active duty or as a way of self-medicating mental health disorders. Substance abuse can cause further social and relationship problems, ultimately pushing some to commit suicide.
However, not all is lost. With proper care and devotion, it is possible to help these soldiers and vets get a grip on their lives again and let them avoid stressors that may push them over the edge.
Joining Veteran Organizations
One of the most effective ways to make the reintegration process successful is by joining various veteran organizations. Doing this lets transitioning personnel meet and connect with other former soldiers who are currently going through or have gone through the same thing.
Meeting with like-minded people who know the hardships of returning to civilian life perfectly well can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. It also provides a great support network you can reach out to when things get tough.
Some veteran organizations even go beyond just helping soldiers readjust to civilian life and might help new vets find employment or get a higher education.
Getting Mental Health Treatment
As mentioned above, mental health disorders are one of the most significant risks to soldiers and veterans. As such, if you find yourself struggling with daily life, don't hesitate to reach out for help.
It is essential to get proper treatment if you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue. There is nothing shameful about asking for help and getting treatment to improve the quality of your life.
If you are a veteran in need of mental health treatment, you can get specialized care at any VA (Veterans Affairs) facility. The VA also offers a Veterans Crisis Line that provides free and confidential support 24/7.
Finding a New Calling
Military life entails a very rigid routine that can be very difficult to readjust from after leaving the armed forces. As such, many soldiers find it helpful to find a new hobby or activity they can invest themselves in.
Doing things that you are passionate about can reduce stress and prevent your mental condition from worsening. Even something as simple as regular volunteer work in the local community can make a massive difference to your mental well-being. This can help you find a new purpose in life and give you something to strive for.
Vets and Long-Term Health Care
Veterans often need long-term health care either due to normal aging or because of service-related health issues. According to the VA, veterans must be enrolled in VA health care before applying for VA long-term care services.
VA service-connected disability status and income will be reviewed to determine if a vet will be charged a copay for VA health care services and VA long-term care services. Generally, VA health will pay for long-term care services for a limited period of time like health insurance; however, if a veteran requires care because of a service-related issue or because they are low income, VA will pay.
Many veterans in good health will obtain private Long-Term Care Insurance to have a choice of care outside of VA-provided services.
While suicide is a leading cause of death in the military, it is not inevitable. There are many things that can be done to reduce the risk of suicide among soldiers and veterans – from proper treatment to surrounding yourself with like-minded people to set a goal worth striving for.
Preventing military suicides requires a concerted effort from all members of society, not just the government or medical professionals. If you are struggling with your mental health or think someone you know may be at risk of suicide, don't hesitate to reach out for help.
About the Author
A copywriter who loves to create engaging and informative content. He's an avid fan of all things science fiction and futurism.
Contributor since August 31st, 2022
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