VA Maryland Health Care System
Preventing Veterans Suicide
Since its launch in 2007, the VA's National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in Canandaigua, NY, has fielded more than 1.35 million calls and made roughly 42,000 lifesaving rescues. A short–only 40 minutes long–HBO documentary titled, "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1" shifts the camera's eye toward the workers who prevent Veterans from committing suicide. In February 2015, the short won an Oscar award for its touching behind the scenes portrayal of the employees who staff the hotline. The documentary depicts the emotional strain, deep compassion, and devotion the hotline staffers have for Veterans struggling on the other end of the line.
At the VA Maryland Health Care System, suicide prevention coordinators work with hotline and local staffers to assist Veterans struggling with suicide. "Our goal is to have a plan of action in place to help guide and support people through difficult moments and keep them safe," says Nikole Jones, Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the VA Maryland Health Care System. "A safety plan can be developed with a counselor or a therapist. It's designed so that people can start with themselves to manage risk and continue by reaching out to their support network until they feel safe. Veterans struggling with suicide should keep their plan in an easy-to-access place such a wallet or cell phone, so that it's readily available if they feel like hurting themselves" she said.
Some Veterans may not express thoughts of suicide; however, their actions and behaviors may indicate an intent to harm themselves. It is important for the friends and families of Veterans to be aware of behaviors that serve as warning signs of suicide risk. Some of these signs include the Veteran appearing sad and depressed most of the time, clinical depression, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating that doesn't go away, frequent and dramatic mood changes, talking about feeling trapped. Other signs include feeling anxious, agitated or unable to sleep, among others.
Reducing access to lethal means may be the most critical factor in reducing risk of suicide. It is important to secure weapons, use gun locks, separate ammunition, and other measures to prevent access for someone with increased risk for suicide. Guns are the most lethal means of suicide. The VA Maryland Health System has a free gun lock distribution program to help Veterans and their families keep safe. To obtain a gun lock, see someone in VA Police Service or see your Mental Health provider within the VA Maryland Health Care System.
Veterans (or family members and friends) who are struggling with suicide can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.