I have recently changed professions and have found myself with an hour and a half long commute to my starting point. According to some surveys regarding the suicide rate among United States veterans, three vets take their own lives during my commute, or twenty-two veterans a day. While this number has come under a good bit of scrutiny lately, and with good reason, professionals studying suicide in America can definitely agree on one thing; the rate among veterans and military service members is extremely high. According to Mental Health Daily, it could be as high as twice the number in the current highest profession.
There are dozens of studies conducted by mental health professionals trying to determine the reason for this drastic difference. The studies point to PTSD, stress, anxiety, fear of deployment and difficult home lives as key triggers for suicide attempts. Certainly, these are key drivers but when taking a close look at professions world-wide, there are varying degrees of all of those same factors. It could be suggested that some careers, firefighters for example, have all of those same obstacles in their daily lives. Why, then, are veterans so susceptible to the idea of suicide as a way of relieving this stress?
Suicide in the Military: A Veteran’s Point of View
I am not a medical professional, but I am a veteran, and when I consider the subject, here is an amateur’s explanation.
First, when a person signs up for the military, the unwritten contract questions two things; are you willing to take a life and willing to give your own? When considering suicide, these two things have to be considered, and, if the answer to either is no, the suicide never occurs. This decision has already been made by service members so one obstacle that could stay a person’s hand is already overcome.
Second, there is a great deal of marketing and discussion around the idea that serving one’s country is incredibly honorable and important. Since most who initially sign up choose not to go on and make the armed services a career, they can be instilled with a sense of duty that they are forever trying to find again. This can create a sense of lack of self-worth and the “lost” feeling that many veterans report having after leaving military service. A person feeling helplessness and no sense of relevance can certainly lead to the depressed state necessary to do something drastic.
Finally, when serving on active duty status, particularly during a deployment, service members are surrounded by others who are experiencing the same experiences. When taken out of that environment, it can be hard to relate to others in a meaningful way. The support network that was ever-present can disappear. When surrounded by others who are experiencing the same hardships, it is easy to feel that a confidant understands where you are coming from.
Any one of those things would be difficult to overcome, even for strong willed individuals. What, then, can be done?
Continuing awareness of the problem and support of organizations, such as Military OneSource, are great starts. We must continue to fight against the stigma of seeking mental health support as weakness and allow those who need the help to feel secure in gaining it. Veterans’ coming together as a community and the revitalization of veteran groups builds a strong, supportive network.
I don’t know what the answer is. Like the disease these vets are facing, the answer is complex and difficult to find. What I do know is while I’m driving that three hours every day, I’ll keep looking.