AAAA Family Forum / By Judy Konitzer and MG Jeff Schlosser, U.S. Army Retired :
We have another epidemic on our hands between mental health issues and especially suicides.
During the second quarter of this year, 139 Active Duty, National Guard, and Reserve Military Soldiers took their lives. An estimate by Brown University Costs of War Project, shows 30,177 vets and active-duty personnel have died by suicide since 9/11, while 7,057 have died while deployed and engaged in the wars. Also, alarming is suicide among teenagers and college students.
Suicide is a reaction which involves voluntarily taking one’s life and is rarely the result of just one conversation or event but involves multiple complex factors. Those who die may have believed they were a burden to the people they loved and thought their families would be better off without them. We know this to be untrue as they just could not see beyond the fog of their emotional pain.
Some suicidal risk factors involve intense feelings of depression, loneliness, worthlessness, hopelessness, bullying, family history of mental health or substance abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, child neglect or abuse, and financial insecurity. Another major risk factor is the availability and use of firearms.
Past AAAA President MG (Ret.) Jeff Schlosser in a recent Facebook page provided some valuable insights. “Confront reality: We veterans, our active-duty comrades, and our families have a serious problem. Suicide. We are killing ourselves at a horrific rate. We owe it to ourselves, those that love us, and America to do more to help those in need before they make an attempt, and for those that survive an attempted suicide, we must help them better than we are now doing. It’s one thing to talk about the issue. But what should we do?
First, as most things in life, we must understand the WHY? Why is suicide an option at all? We don’t need more think tank studies. Instead, let’s ask the survivors of suicide attempts. Listen, then listen more to them and those that love them. This is not a simple contractor-led endeavor with focused groups from the VA. This must be a ‘getting hands dirty’ intense maneuver into the homeless camps, into the VA centers where we have pushed those with multiple indicators (PTSD, substance abuse, depression, divorce, TBI, etc.) into the units where survivors cling to dignity and sufferers try to deal with their future. And this is likely most important, talk to the families – the loved ones – of those who have killed themselves and those who have sought to do so. They know things we don’t.
Second, give the survivors and those who thought they might try, a voice and a mission: help your comrades. Most of all give them reason to not quit. Most likely what we would find would help us mitigate, and in some cases stop the pain, anger, and loss of control from trauma that feeds suicide ideation. It may help us become more creative before it comes to a suicide attempt, and more supportive after an attempt.” MG Schlosser concluded with “ I do know for sure that it would demonstrate a level of leadership and concern that we need soonest, before the situation gets even more dire.”
People who die by suicide sometimes give some warning of their intent – even if subtle – like talking, writing, or even joking about suicide or death, an increase in destructive or violent behavior, social withdrawal, pessimism, anger, anxiety, or hopelessness, or using words such as “Life isn’t worth living.”
If someone you know is showing signs of suicidal thoughts or you suspect is considering suicide, please take it seriously and be willing to listen and let them know you are concerned and persuade them to seek professional help. Don’t assume the situation will correct itself. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a free 24-hour hotline; or in the case of a life-threatening emergency call 911 or visit your nearest emergency room.
Graphic by Meghan Hutto
Although there was no way that you would have known it was going to happen on that day or that moment and you can’t control the actions of others, The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) offers survivors postvention support with resources and programs. Contact their National Military Survivor Helpline 24/7 at 1-800-959-8277.
MG (Ret.) Jeff Schloesser is a past AAAA president and author of “Marathon War: Leadership in Combat in Afghanistan.”