6,139 veterans in 2017. 541 members of the active-duty military, Reserve and National Guard in 2018. 186 military family members in 2018. These numbers don’t just represent our suicide numbers. Each suicide is a human life lost, with loved ones, units and friends left behind. The cost is too high.
In our country, only 1% volunteer to serve and protect our Constitution; our nation is grateful for their service. The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs must, and will, do better for our military members, veterans and their families. We don’t accept these numbers, nor are we complacent.
We are seeing unprecedented efforts to increase access to care, reduce stigma and build coping skills. We are seeing unprecedented commitment at the highest levels to prevent suicide within our communities. But no organization, agency or effort can alone end suicide. The most recent data shows that national suicide rates are also rising.
OUR VIEW: This Veterans Day, know that the U.S. military is losing on the suicide front
The Pentagon (Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP)
As psychologists, there is little someone can say to cause us pause. We know about pain, trauma and catastrophic events that uproot even the most stoic. We, too, have had life experiences that shook our ground. When we see suicide numbers, we don’t see “them,” we see “us.”
We see people who were hurting and couldn’t see a way out. And we may each be susceptible given certain circumstances. As long as we as a nation “suck it up” or try to “handle it,” we won’t make progress. None of us.
We must continue to reduce this stigma that is killing far too many veterans, service members and other Americans.
Talking about suicide can be scary. Uncomfortable. It shouldn’t be.
Within this short article, we can’t provide all you need to know, but there is much you should know. Know the facts and misconceptions, red flags and your own risk. Talk about it. Acknowledge that getting help is a source of strength.
We must do more. We are committed to doing better. We want your help. We can prevent suicide — together.
Find out more about suicide here.
Dr. Elizabeth P. Van Winkle is executive director of the Pentagon’s Office of Force Resiliancy. Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen is director of a suicide prevention task force at the Department of Veteran Affairs.
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