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What to know about suicide in military members, veterans and first responders

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Sep 10, 2019, 2:23 PM | Updated: Sep 11, 2019, 1:54 am

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September is Suicide Awareness Month, a time to recognize that suicide rates have risen in the United States in the past couple decades, with almost 45,000 lives lost to suicide in one year alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Unfortunately, active duty members of the military, veterans and first responders are disproportionately affected by suicide. Here are some quick facts about how suicide affects America’s heroes:

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. military.
  • Although military suicide rates were once lower, they are now twice as high as the general population, according to the Center for Deployment Psychology of Uniformed Services University.
  • About 20 veterans commit suicide every day.
  • Suicides in the army increased 80 percent between 2004 and 2008, according to S. Veterans Magazine.
  • First responders (police, firefighters, EMTs) “are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty,” according to the Ruderman Family Foundation.
  • More than 6 percent of first responders have attempted suicide, a rate 10 times higher than the general population, according to Fire Rescue1.

The elevated risk of suicide for these professions may stem from the stress and trauma of the jobs. Being on the scene of dangerous and emotionally draining situations leads to conscious and subconscious psychological damage that can linger for years.

The Ruderman Family Foundation estimated police officers witness about 188 critical incidents during their careers, leading to depression and PTSD rates that are five times higher than the general population.

Risk factors

You can help your loved ones by familiarizing yourself with the warning signs of suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recommends noting whether people do any of the following:

  • Talk about killing themselves
  • Appear hopeless
  • Feel they have no reason to live
  • Worry about being a burden to others
  • Are in physical or emotional pain
  • Increase use of alcohol or drugs
  • Withdraw from family and friends
  • Sleep more or less than usual
  • Say goodbye to friends and family
  • Give away prized possessions
  • Appear overly aggressive or fatigued

Risk factors that heighten people’s likelihood of resorting to suicide include having a history of mental disorders; experiencing personal loss; being exposed to extreme danger, death or maimed bodies; and having extreme fatigue, physical stress, chronic illness or recent or continuous major life stressors, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

National and local resources

Suicide prevention resources abound through national and local organizations.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers a network of crisis centers that offer resources to the public. Anyone can call the toll-free number to get support over the phone.

Some cities have local centers that offer behavioral health services and engagement with healthcare providers, families, patients, communities and health insurers. Copper Springs, an Arizona-based behavioral health center, offers targeted behavioral health and PTSD treatment through a program called Help for Heroes.

“Help for Heroes is a dedicated treatment program at Copper Springs that addresses the unique needs of military personnel, veterans and first responders,” Copper Springs said. “Through our specialized treatment tracks, individuals can overcome challenges brought on by repeated exposure to stress and trauma in the line of duty.”

Treatment options at Copper Springs include 24-hour supervised care for individuals experiencing severe emotional or behavioral changes related to depression or anxiety, and substance abuse treatment and dual diagnosis treatment for people struggling with a combination of substance abuse and psychiatric disorders.

To learn more about programs available at Copper Springs, visit coppersprings.com.

Copper Springs

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What to know about suicide in military members, veterans and first responders