Grief & Loss

Veteran Suicide

Each day in the United States, an average of 22 veterans die by suicide. 22 per day, and there are 365 days in a year. Just stop and think about that staggering statistic for a moment. These are men and women who fight for our freedoms we enjoy every day. That is 22 too many, in my opinion. Veterans face some unique challenges when returning from deployments and many times that can increase the chances of a crisis or suicidal thoughts.

Nightmares/flashbacks. This is the biggest thing that I’ve heard happening to veterans after returning from deployments. Many times they see faces in their nightmares too. Other times the mind will take over and alter the dreams. This can include changing faces to be people they know, or the timeline of events changes slightly.

These issues can affect many aspects of life. That includes sleep amounts, mood and productivity, and so much more. These nightmares feel real. Like they are experiencing it all over again, repeatedly.

Integrating back to civilian life. The military is an incredibly structured environment. I’ve heard it compared to prison in terms of structure and routine. When a veteran comes back and is trying to integrate back into civilian life, there is no structure. The number of choices is incredibly overwhelming. These are simple things most people take for granted. The choice of when to wake up, what to do after waking up, and more throughout each day.

The best advice I’ve heard here is set a schedule. Structure each day the same way it would be in the military. Just adapted to civilian life. Slowly weaning themselves away from that as it becomes easier. Start small.

Another issue is finding a job. This can be so difficult because a veteran has basically been absent for X number of years and no work experience. A potential employer can’t exactly call the Army or Marines or whatever branch and ask for references. It’s treated as if they didn’t exist for the years they served in terms of work experience.

There is also a stigma around being a veteran and mental health issues. The possibility of being unreliable because of the potential “emotional baggage” a veteran is carrying around. Or they’ll be triggered somehow and turn into a danger instead of an asset to a company.

I’m seeing a big shift in veteran owned companies advertising as such. Or there are companies/social media accounts specifically dedicated to helping veterans find jobs as well as bringing attention to veteran owned companies.

My personal favorite veteran owned companies are Grunt Style Clothing and Black Rifle Coffee Company. Another great company that is not veteran owned, but definitely supports veterans is Military Luggage Company. Why are veteran owned companies so important? Because they can save lives, quite honestly. So can supporting them. Not only do all three of these companies have great products (no I was not paid to say this, nor was this endorsed by them. It is simply my opinion), but they increase a veteran’s chance of being successful outside the military. Going to work and being around other veterans who understand what they’ve all seen and experienced is incredible for morale and mental health.

Strain on relationships. Veterans are deployed for long periods of time. It’s not a simple or quick trip. If a veteran is married and has kids, the spouse is basically a single parent for the duration of the deployment. The veteran is accustomed to life in the military and their spouse is accustomed to life with their veteran away. They really were living two separate lives. How do they come back together as a couple navigating life together when the veteran returns?

It takes a very strong support system to make it through these kinds of obstacles. I had two nights a few weeks ago where my husband was home with me when he should have been at work. I’ve adapted my schedule to work when he does. Nathan leaves, I turn on my computer and go to work. When he didn’t leave, I had trouble being productive. It was out of my normal, and I wasn’t entirely sure how to handle it. My first thought was, go away and let me work. You’re in the way.

Telling a veteran spouse this, the response was, now imagine if that oddity was constant and you had to try adjusting to that being the new normal. How would you do it? Could you handle it? I honestly thought, no. I couldn’t handle that because I have no clue how to integrate Nathan into my routine without feeling like he’s just in the way. It is so much easier just to do something myself when that is how I normally do it. Sadly, that adds to the feeling of isolation that veterans feel when coming back and trying to find their new normal.

Having many challenges to overcome. The things I’ve listed here are not the only issues that veterans face when returning home from deployment. They are simply the most common that I’ve heard or been told are the biggest obstacles.

The biggest issue is all of these things combined give a feeling of hopelessness. That the obstacles are too big to overcome. Or that the nightmares and triggers will never end. This is where the suicidal thoughts start. Because of that feeling of hopelessness.

Here are some ways to help overcome these obstacles:

As I said earlier, set a schedule for each day and develop a routine. That is such a great way to start. Continue the same sort of structure they’re accustomed to.

Go to the VA. If the one they’re going to now doesn’t meet their standards or the level of care they’re expecting isn’t happening, go to a different VA clinic. It is just like getting a diagnosis from a doctor and going to another for a second opinion. There is nothing wrong with that.

In every aspect of life there are good and bad. Doctors, mechanics, police, and on down the line. Don’t give up just because you encountered a bad one. Find a different one. One bad one doesn’t mean they are all bad. You are in control of your health care, so keep searching for the right VA clinic for you.

Talk to someone. Other veterans who share the bond of being a soldier, especially. I know a few who are more than happy to talk and lend an ear. Please email me for that information. I will gladly pass it along. But the big thing is reach out. Never stop reaching out until you find the person who will listen.

Find a hobby. I know that sounds cliche. But finding something to keep your interest is huge. One veteran suggested riding a motorcycle. Many say that is dangerous. Well, so is suicide. Let’s be honest here. Go to the gym. Sweat out some anger or depression. Our bodies and minds need to release negative energy. Even those who don’t suffer from depression need that release. It is just a way to keep ourselves healthy.

When I say find a hobby, I don’t mean that flippantly or casually. It isn’t the magical answer to ending suicidal thoughts because it isn’t that simple. These are healthy coping mechanisms that will aid in dealing with the stress and pressures that veterans face when returning from deployment.

What can civilians do to help?

Help end the stigma around suicide. I absolutely despise the term “commit suicide” because it sounds like a crime. They committed a burglary or robbery. It sounds like that to me. Suicide is not a crime. I use the term die by suicide instead.

Understand that suicide is not a choice. Our bodies are hard wired to sustain life. Hence the reason breathing is not a voluntary bodily function. We can’t just wake up one day and decide to stop breathing. It is impossible. Deciding to die by suicide is the same. We don’t just decide that, like we decide what to eat for breakfast. If our brains have gone into a dark enough place to override that, there is a problem. That should tell us how powerful the human mind really is.

Listen. When someone reaches out to you that is having a crisis like that, don’t slam the door in their face. Be a resource. At the very least, point them in the direction of a good resource. I’ll be listing some in a moment. But the important thing is taking them seriously. Let them know they matter and their issues are valid.

If you are willing to listen and help, make them feel safe. Let them know they matter and just allow them a place to talk. Make them laugh. Maybe they need a distraction. Be a friend, basically.

Notes:

Suicide impacts everyone around the person who used that method to die. The person who dies leaves everyone around them with a lot of questions and guilt over it. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve asked myself if I could have done something different to save a life. If I had left my house just ten minutes earlier. Or what I would have done when I arrived and saw them with a gun in their hand.

I ask myself why. Why I didn’t do something different. What did I do to deserve the pain inflicted on me by that person’s choice. There is a lot of anger around that as well. Grief is rough to start with, but when these added issues are there, it is even worse. The worst part is there are so few people who are willing to listen without judgement.

Resources:

The VA crisis line is 1-800-273-8255

Trevor Gould Soldiers Help Project (507)329-0386

Eagle’s Healing Nest (320) 351-6200

End 22

Live To Tell Foundation (954) 445-1590

Operation Engage America (515) 984-0661

Real Warriors

I also know several veterans who are more than willing to talk. Send me an email at erica@thepreppingwife.com and I will be happy to get you in touch with them.

Special thanks to Bobby Irish and Sheri Johnson for the information, feedback, and help in writing this post. I could not have written it without either of you. I feel honored you shared your stories with me in the hopes of helping others.

48 Comments

  • Alexandra Wrigley

    Wow! 22 suicides per day! That is crazy and scary. Thanks for bringing this figure to life. What you’ve posted here is my daily concerns about my siblings. I have a younger brother and sister in the UK both in the army in their early twenties. I worry about their life outside of the forces. However, I feel that this post has reassured me there are ways and small steps to implement in their transition to civilian life. I really think this post is beneficial and I hope others read it who have loved ones in the forces.

    • Arun Dahiya

      Thank you for speaking on such an important topic. My grandpa was in military and now suffers from PTSD, get frequent nightmares. The govt should provide better mental health care to them.

  • Scott J DeNicola

    Something needs to be done about veteran care in this country. It is a shame to see what the brave men and women go through. These numbers are staggering. Thank you for posting this. The more attention on the subject of veteran suicide the better.

  • Subhashish Roy

    This is something I had no idea about. It is not just the number of deaths which is alarming but also the fact that after having given so many years for their country they face hopelessness & bouts of depression which drives them to take this extreme step. Thank you for your thoughts & bringing it to our notice.

  • Sharon Wu

    thank you for shedding light on such an important topic that isn’t addressed enough. i never knew just how staggering the rate of veteran suicide is and it is just so sad 🙁

  • Trish Veltman

    It’s distressing what so many people go through after leaving the military because of inadequate support. Speaking out about it like this is vital to bring more awareness and help.

  • Nyxie

    This is so upsetting. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    I know the UK may be different in terms of aftercare of our veterans, but I know that when my father retired from the army a number of years ago he went through a period of depression. It was an adjustment to normality, a chronic back problem and the ongoing threat against him in this country that made him so, but luckily he had us to support him.

    More mental health care needs to be made available for veterans all over, but most certainly in the US.

  • Shayla

    Powerful post. I appreciate this post. I’m a vet. My fiancé is a vet and we both deal with things mental health and otherwise that deal with our time In. Thank you for this post.

  • Rachael

    This is a problem that we can’t ignore. Thank you for providing the list of resources. I hope this article finds its way into the arms of someone who can apply it.

  • Lyosha

    I strongly believe no matter how it is to write and read it needs to be talked about. I strongly believe in power of words. I want to pray for world where no suicide can happen

  • Nina N

    We have a very personal experience with veteran suicide. My husband’s uncle called him at the middle of the night telling my husbands he wants to shoot himself and he doesn’t know why. We ended up calling police to help him and get the gun from him. He’s in a better situation now.

    • Pat

      This is so sad. More needs to be done to help. Thank you for the suggestions on how others can help and information on the help that is already available. This will no doubt help someone.

  • Thuy

    So sad that our veterans have to deal with mental health issues like PTSD and Depression without the proper responses and resources given to them. We need to do better as a country

  • Debra Roberts

    As a mom to 2 airman, and a mother-in-law to 2 soldiers, I hope this is something our family never, ever has to endure. PTSD is a real beast and often times it is concealed, until it’s the unthinkable happens. We need to be conscious and aware of the struggles of deployment for our men and women in uniform. Thank you for bringing this to the forefront. I hope many people read and appreciate this real issue.

  • Faithnturtles

    This made me so emotional. It hurts to know that 22 veterans die by Suicide each day. You’ve listed very practical ways and I hope it reaches someone and helps them.

    Stigma ..sigh I pray for the day humans can move away from stigmas and discrimination.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Diana

    I’ve read most of your blog posts. Very good & honest! Good reads. One day I’ll get a blog up & going. I’d like to do a challenge like you have going here. How do you start one?!?!
    Best wishes

    • The Prepping Wife

      Thank you so much for following my blog, Diana! I appreciate it and I’m glad you enjoy it. At the end of the challenge posts, I’ve been adding in a picture of the prompts as they were sent to me. I can email you a copy, if you would like.

  • Katy

    Wow, that is so sad… everyone, myself included tend to forget how hard it is to be a Veteran. I really appreciate your viewpoint on suicide and how it isn’t really a choice.

  • Multipotentialite

    Wow, these statistics are distressing indeed. I actually knew a few veterans who have been struggling with these issues. I also observed how it influenced their relationships and how they woke up from night terrors. It’s wonderful that you’re raising awareness on this. Great article!!!

  • Despite Pain

    You’re right, 22 suicides per day is so high. Those veterans tend to come out of service with little or no support and no idea how to cope. If they’ve been in a war zone and come home with PTSD, how on earth must they feel? We’ve really no idea. Your suggestions are excellent and very practical. I hope many people read this.

  • Gina (Love, Auntie)

    Incredibly sobering statistics. And you are right – the human mind is so powerful. I can tell you really do care, and your suggestions are wonderful. I never really considered the whole schedule/routine aspect, but you are right. I think these suggestions could apply to anyone suffering from depression too.

    • Carol

      Thanks for bringing awareness to this issue. My son is a Veteran and several of these apply to him. He’s adjusting to civilian life but it is truly an adjustment. Until experiencing this as a family, I really hadn’t thought much about what happens when they come home. Now every chance I get, I thank a Veteran for their service. One word or act of kindness can make a huge difference.

  • Daphne Takahashi

    wow! the numbers are shocking! thank you for raising awareness! This is a really beneficial post for everyone and specially those who have there loved ones in the forces. It’s always good to know that there a things we can do to help them integrate to civilian life.

  • Kelly Martin

    This is so sad. Veteran suicide rates are really shocking. There definitely needs to be more support for veterans to integrate back into the community and help needed for mental health issues.

  • Lene

    On this side of the border (Canada), there is some talk about creating better awareness about PTSD and the impact it especially can have on people who have served. Mental health is not exactly something that’s well taken care of in the Armed Forces or police and fire departments — just not manly, is it? I think the more we acknowledge that when you put people in these kinds of situations that are so incredibly stressful and traumatic, it’s bound to have an effect and then do something to help them deal with that, well…. That’s part of it all, isn’t it?

  • Alexandra

    Wow! This was really powerful and thought provoking. It also scared me a little bit because I have a teenage boy who has thought about the military. It’s really sad that these people are putting their lives on the line for us and we don’t have better services for them when they come home. Good write!

  • Lyanna Soria

    22 is quite high already, this is such sad news. People should be more aware about this and have more things done to support veterans and their well being. It’s scary to not be able to escape such nightmares even after they are done and I hope that they have people near them that helps them get through it.

  • Sonia Seivwright

    You should see the way Veteran’s are being treated here in the U.K. Most of them are homeless and sleeping on the streets. These people fought hard for the countries during the war. They deserve better than this.

  • Sara Green

    Honestly, that breaks my heart. I have family and friends in the military or are military spouses. I’m sure everyone knows at least one person that is directly connected to someone in the military.
    One of the biggest concerns that I’ve had was the lack of funding and transitional care from retiring to home. And, why are there so many homeless veterans? It’s wrong.

  • Nyxie

    Excellent post. You covered a very sensitive topic here while still being very respectful and educational. My father is a veteran (Uk/Northern Ireland), and a lot of my male ancestors were either in the army, through various world wars or operating here in Northern Ireland during the troubles. I’ve heard horror stories about the troubles and the trauma during that time, I’ve heard stories of my great uncles suffering PTSD after Dunkirk.

    War and being in the services is so, so taxing. It takes a major toll on your mental health and there needs to be more support. I don’t find that the mainland UK is too bad with this but here in NI and in America I here it can be the opposite.

    Thank you so, so much for sharing this. x

  • Doris Jean

    This is heartbreaking. I can’t believe there are 22 suicides per day. We as a country really have to do better helping our veterans. They truly deserve better than this. Praying for our veterans!

  • Stella

    This is such an important post. As someone who has worked in conflict zones for over a decade, I can relate at least on some level. Thank you for including what we can do as civilians because, often, we need clear guidance on the best approach.

  • Britt K

    This is such an important topic, one that desperately needs to be talked about more often. I met many incredible people during my time in the Canadian Armed Forces. While I never deployed, a large number of the people that I trained with did. Many of them came back with their own demons, struggling in silence because they felt that they couldn’t reach out for help. The stigma associated with mental health, PTSD and suicide creates a barrier, keeping them from asking for the help that they so desperately need. The more that we talk about it and share the sad truth, the further we can help to progress our society towards a much-needed change.

    • The Prepping Wife

      There is so much stigma around mental health, especially with men. It’s viewed as a weakness so often, and I hate that. I wish it would become a normal thing to seek out mental health care. It is just as important as physical health, if not more so.

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