JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With September 1st marking the start of Suicide Prevention Month, the Department of Veterans Affairs is calling on community leaders, supervisors, colleagues, friends and family members to be a part of the #BeThere campaign for veterans and service members -- reminding that a simple act can play a pivotal role in preventing suicide.
"You don't have to be a trained professional to support someone who may be going through a difficult time," said Dr. Caitlin Thompson, Director of the VA Office of Suicide Prevention. "We want to let people know that things they do every day, like calling an old friend or checking in with a neighbor, are strong preventive factors for suicide because they help people feel less alone. That's what this campaign is about - encouraging people to be there for each other."
In April, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data on suicide. It found in 2014, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and rates of suicide in the U.S. general population are increasing.
The CDC says between 1999 and 2014, suicide rates increased among the general population, for both males and females and for all ages. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says if you or someone you know is an emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911. You can access the full CDC suicide report here.
The VA Office of Suicide Prevention released its own veteran suicide data on August 3, 2016. Key findings in that report include:
- In 2014, an average of 20 Veterans died by suicide each day. Six of the 20 were users of VHA services.
- In 2014, Veterans accounted for 18 percent of all deaths by suicide among U.S. adults and constituted 8.5 percent of the U.S. adult population (ages 18+). In 2010, Veterans accounted for 20.2 percent of all deaths by suicide and represented 9.7 percent of the U.S. adult population.
- The burden of suicide resulting from firearm injuries remains high. In 2014, about 67 percent of all Veteran deaths by suicide were the result of firearm injuries.
- There is continued evidence of a high burden of suicide among middle-aged and older Veterans. In 2014, about 65 percent of all Veterans who died by suicide were age 50 or older.
- After adjusting for differences in age and gender, risk for suicide was 21 percent higher among Veterans when compared with U.S. civilian adults. (2014)
- After adjusting for differences in age, risk for suicide was 18 percent higher among male Veterans when compared with U.S. civilian adult males. (2014)
- After adjusting for differences in age, risk for suicide was 2.4 times higher among female Veterans when compared with U.S. civilian adult females. (2014)
- In 2014, rates of suicide were highest among younger Veterans (ages 18-29) and lowest among older Veterans (ages 60+). Furthermore, rates of suicide among Veterans age 70 and older were lower than rates of suicide among civilians in the same age group.
You can access the full VA suicide report here.
Veterans Affairs' #BeThere campaign also highlights VA resources that are available to support veterans and service members who are coping with mental health challenges or are at risk for suicide, and it encourages everyone to share these resources with someone in their life.
The VA's Veterans Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. Veterans can also chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat or text 838255 -- even if a veteran is not registered with VA or enrolled in VA Health Care.
VA plans to host a series of roundtable discussions with key stakeholder groups in the coming months as part of its plan to develop a public health strategy for preventing Veteran suicide. In August, VA hosted its first roundtable discussion, "Suicide Prevention is Everyone's Business," with corporate sector partners.
In September, VA will host the Veterans Affairs Suicide Prevention Innovations event, which will bring together a community of experts from business, industry, academia, and government agencies to collaboratively identify solutions for reducing suicide rates among veterans and service members. In addition, new programs such as REACH VET are being launched nationwide in September to identify Veterans in VHA care who may be vulnerable, in order to provide the care they need before a crisis occurs.