Help Prevent Suicide
To keep our military and veteran community healthy, we work to increase understanding and awareness of the relationship of PTSD to suicide. Too often, mental health challenges are ignored or brushed off. We hope our efforts to educate the community can build resiliency and grit for everyone we interact with.
PTSD and Suicide Prevention
Since most suicides happen with a firearm, understanding how to add layers or barriers helps to slow down the decision process that can lead to a suicide. It can come down to minutes to save a life!
Suicide is preventable. If the veteran has access to firearms, a key thing to remember is the acronym GO SLO:
- SAFES – Lock away the firearm in a special-purpose safe.
- LOCKS – Install gun locks on all firearms.
- OUTSIDE THE HOME – Keep firearms off-site, not at home, so they are less accessible.
ES Veterans offers free gun locks upon written request.
Other key resources:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK)
Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, press “1”
Visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website. It encourages friends and relatives to know about these suicide warning signs:
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves or others
- Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Extreme mood swings
While helping a suicidal person can be a difficult process, remember that the assistance you provide could save someone’s life. If you think someone may be suicidal, you can directly ask him or her.
Contrary to popular belief, asking someone if they are suicidal will not put the idea in their head.
Often the most difficult part of obtaining treatment is the initial call to a mental health professional. It is usually easier for a suicidal individual to accept professional help if they have assistance with this part of the process. Help them make the call.
ARTICLES TO READ
Mindfulness for Self-Care
From PTSD Bytes, a VA podcast series
Mindfulness for Self-Care – Link to Podcast
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a way of thinking that can help you become more aware of your present experiences. Avery defines mindfulness as awareness based on nonjudgmental self-observation in the present moment. This self-observation focuses on the facts of the situation, not personal evaluations of yourself. It also focuses on how you feel, emotionally and physically – again, without judging yourself for having these feelings.
An important aspect of mindfulness is staying in the present and recognizing that you can only make decisions about present situations. You can’t change the past and you can’t predict the future. By paying attention and not judging your thoughts and feelings, you can choose how to respond to situations instead of responding automatically.
Mindfulness and PTSD
Avery notes mindfulness can help with PTSD symptoms in different ways. For example, not judging yourself for having unwanted memories can decrease the impact of those memories. As McGee-Vincent says, being aware of any negative feelings can “Help us go from being on autopilot to making informed choices about what we can do in our lives.”
Mindfulness has been shown to help with PTSD symptoms, too.
Though research is still underway, mindfulness-based stress reduction is a promising therapy aimed at helping people with PTSD. Mindfulness in general can also enhance your ability to use the other tools that you learn in evidence-based psychotherapy, helping to decrease symptoms of PTSD.
Challenges when trying mindfulness
Avery says that it is not necessary to have a quiet mind to practice mindfulness. Instead, practicing mindfulness may actually help quiet a mind that is busy, anxious or depressed. It is important to pay attention to the thoughts you are having and practice not judging yourself for having these thoughts.
Being aware of your thoughts and feelings and allowing yourself to “Be as you are” can lead to feeling better.
Getting started with mindfulness
There are many different ways to get started with practicing mindfulness. Many religions and faith traditions already have mindfulness practices built in. You can also talk to your primary care provider or a mental health provider about counseling that involves mindfulness practices.
The Relationship Between PTSD and Suicide
Trauma, PTSD and suicide are related. Learning about these relationships may help you understand more about suicide and what to do if you or someone you know needs help. And, if you have PTSD, treatment can help.
Does Trauma Increase a Person’s Suicide Risk?
Going through a trauma may increase a person’s suicide risk. For example, there is evidence that childhood abuse and sexual trauma may increase a person’s suicide risk. Among Veterans, some studies have found that combat trauma is related to suicide, while other studies have not. In this research, combat trauma survivors who were wounded more than once or put in the hospital for a wound had the highest suicide risk. This suggests suicide risk in Veterans may be affected by how intense and how often the combat trauma was. Does PTSD increase a person’s suicide risk?
Why is suicide risk higher in trauma survivors? It may be because of the symptoms of PTSD or it may be due to other mental health problems, like depression. Studies show that suicide risk is higher in persons with PTSD. Some studies link suicide risk in those with PTSD to distressing trauma memories, anger, and poor control of impulses. Further, suicide risk is higher for those with PTSD who have certain styles of coping with stress, such as not expressing feelings.
Research suggests that for Veterans with PTSD, the strongest link to both suicide attempts and thinking about suicide is guilt related to combat. Many Veterans have very disturbing thoughts and extreme guilt about actions taken during times of war. These thoughts can often overwhelm the Veteran and make it hard for him or her to deal with the intense feelings.
Can PTSD Treatment Help?
A person can benefit from cognitive behavioral treatments (CBT) for PTSD if suicidal thoughts are able to be managed on an outpatient basis. For example, a study of female rape survivors who received such treatment found that as PTSD symptoms decreased during treatment, suicidal thoughts also became less common. This effect lasted for 5-10 years after treatment ended. More research is needed, but having a good relationship with a mental health provider can help persons with PTSD make the best treatment decisions.
Given the link between PTSD and suicidal thoughts/behaviors, if you have PTSD and are involved in mental health treatment, your suicide risk will likely be regularly assessed. If the provider learns that immediate risk for suicide is high based on his/her assessment, they will make appropriate treatment decisions to ensure safety. If the immediate risk for suicide is not high and suicide risk can be managed safely on an outpatient basis, the provider may suggest treatment for PTSD.
What Can I Do?
I am suicidal
If you are ever thinking about suicide and feel unsafe:
Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day.
Veterans, press “1” after being connected, to be routed to the Veterans Crisis Line.
Veterans can also chat live online with a crisis counselor to get help at any time of day or night. Go to Veterans Crisis Line.
The Veterans Crisis Line also responds to text messages. Send a text to 838255.
En Español 1-888-628-9454
Everyone feels down from time to time. If you have thoughts about hurting yourself, seek professional help. Many people who have thoughts of suicide also struggle with depression or with drinking or drug problems. There are many places to get help. See Get Help in a Crisis for resources.
Someone I know is suicidal
You may come in contact with a family member, friend, or coworker who is thinking about suicide. When someone tells you they have these thoughts, you may feel scared and unsure what to do. It is even harder if the person tells you in secret and you feel pressure not to tell others.
If someone you know is thinking about suicide, this is a serious matter. It can be very hard to gauge the level of danger. A mental health professional is the best person to decide how much danger there is.
You can help the person by staying calm and telling them about mental health options in the area.
Often the hardest part of getting treatment is making the first call to a mental health provider. It is usually easier if the person who is thinking about suicide has help with this contact.
Please see the resources listed above for phone numbers you can call for help. While helping someone who is thinking about suicide can be hard, keep in mind that the help you give could save someone’s life.
Someone I know has died by suicide
It is very upsetting when someone you know dies by suicide. Getting over the shock and distress will be especially hard if you felt close to them, if you saw the event, or if you have your own mental health issues.
Grieving the loss of a loved one is a natural process. It may take several months to feel “normal” again after someone you know dies by suicide. Due to the traumatic nature of suicide, you may go through what’s known as “traumatic grief.” If you are feeling intense grief or guilt several months after the suicide, contact a mental health provider for help. Many people feel guilty about not having prevented the suicide. Be aware, though, that suicide is never your fault. Suicide is complex with many factors that contribute.
It can also be difficult to cope when a loved one has made a suicide attempt. You can access educational products for family members of Veterans who have made a suicide attempt, including a Family Resource Guide and information about how to talk to a child about a suicide attempt. Some materials are also available in Spanish. Although these products were created with military families in mind, resources and information included in them may be useful for non-military families as well.
How PTSD Affects the People You Love
Reading time: 4 minutes
Article from Effects of PTSD on Family – PTSD: National Center for PTSD (va.gov)
How PTSD Affects the People You Love – Video Link
Common Reactions of Family Members
Family members of a person with PTSD may experience the following:
You may feel sorry for your loved one’s suffering. This may help your loved one know that you sympathize with him or her. However, be careful that you are not treating him or her like a permanently disabled person. With help, he or she can feel better.
PTSD can make someone seem like a different person. If you believe your family member no longer has the traits you loved, it may be hard to feel good about them. The best way to avoid negative feelings is to educate yourself about PTSD. Even if your loved one refuses treatment, you will probably benefit from some support. If you care for a family member with PTSD also see Partners of Veterans with PTSD.
Avoidance is one of the symptoms of PTSD. Those with PTSD avoid situations and reminders of their trauma. As a family member, you may be avoiding the same things as your loved one. Or, you may be afraid of his or her reaction to certain cues. One possible solution is to do some social activities, but let your family member stay home if he or she wishes. However, he or she might be so afraid for your safety that you also can’t go out. If so, seek professional help.
This is common among family members when the person with PTSD causes feelings of pain or loss. When PTSD lasts for a long time, you may begin to lose hope that your family will ever “get back to normal.”
Anger and guilt
If you feel responsible for your family member’s happiness, you might feel guilty when you can’t make a difference. You could also be angry if he or she can’t keep a job or drinks too much, or because he or she is angry or irritable. You and your loved one must get past this anger and guilt by understanding that the feelings are no one’s fault.
Everyone’s bad habits, such as drinking, smoking, and not exercising, can get worse when trying to cope with their family member’s PTSD symptoms. You may also develop other health problems when you’re constantly worried, angry, or depressed.
Family members may feel hurt, alienated, or discouraged because your loved one has not been able to overcome the effects of the trauma. Family members frequently devote themselves totally to those they care for and, in the process, neglect their own needs.
Social support is extremely important for preventing and helping with PTSD. It is important for family members to take care of themselves; both for their own good and to help the person dealing with PTSD.