September is National Suicide Prevention Month and we must all raise awareness of the causes, warning signs, and treatments available for those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts or actions. In order to address the rising rate of suicide amongst our military servicemembers and veterans, APA Advocacy staff are working with Congress, military service organizations, veterans service organizations, and mental health advocates to advance policies that will positively impact veterans, servicemembers, and their families. Some of these issues include safe gun storage, improved hiring of more psychologists at the Department of Veterans Affairs and improving military cultural competency amongst community providers. APA has resources available for understanding the warning signs and how to intervene when you think a friend, coworker, or family member might be experiencing thoughts of suicide.
This month is especially important for servicemembers, members of the National Guard, and veterans, who all have higher rates of suicide than their nonveteran peers. In 2017, the veteran suicide rate (PDF, 1.91MB) was 27.7 veterans per 100,000, and the active duty suicide rate (PDF, 2.41MB) was 21.9 servicemembers per 100,000. This compares with 14 American suicide deaths per 100,000 people in the general population. Servicemembers and veterans are more likely to experience some of the risk factors for suicide, including exposure to trauma, substance use disorder, and access to firearms.
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers several free online courses for psychologists and interested individuals who want to learn more about military culture and make a difference in preventing veteran suicide. APA has previously highlighted some of these courses, including VA’s S.A.V.E. Training, a suicide prevention course presented by VA psychologist Megan McCarthy, PhD. Treatment works, and getting veterans, servicemembers, or anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts into appropriate treatment can save lives.