What are you going to do about it?
Suicide sucks but so what? What are you going to do about it?
That may sound harsh, and aligns with a sharp comment I made on social media about the use of the word “staggering” in a headline about the suicide rate in women veterans. (I'm talking about you Task & Purpose) It caught my attention, as I’m sure it was meant to do, but the article, while making some solid mentions about the lack of connectedness contributing to this problem, stopped short of identifying the elephant in the room. More women veterans are dying by suicide because a) there’s more of them now than at any time in our nation's history and b) they use guns more than their civilian counterparts. I won’t definitively say that’s the only problem, because there aren’t large enough numbers to show statistical significance. But a quick look at a plot will show that the lowest hanging fruit on the suicide prevention tree is the use of guns by all veterans, men and women alike.
You know what's "staggering"? Our fear of speaking about guns when talking about suicide. I don't know the fix. I have guns, usually have a gun near me. Don't intend to give it up. But there are solutions. We need ideas. (and I don't think it's those cheap-ass gun locks the VA gives out. Have you ever tried to properly store a gun with one of those things on it?)
In the civilian world, female suicide means held steady (slightly dropping) between 2001 and 2014 from 35.5% to 31.1% using firearms to die. Meanwhile, on the veteran side of the equation, the rate rose from 36.4% to 40.5%, while men held steady at around 67% for the same time period. Overall, in Texas, which has a lower veteran suicide rate than most states, 71.7% of the veteran suicides are with firearms. A conversation about suicide without a discussion of firearms is like talking about “My Dinner with Andre” and not mentioning boredom.
Suicide is a problem, costly and contagious. It’s important we address it but also important to do that in the right way. See www.reportingonsuicide.org for some proven guidelines on talking about suicide in the media.
We’ve got a thousand, often misplaced “awareness campaigns” – too many without proposed solutions. One of the most thorough reviews of dozens of “awareness campaigns” concludes:
Physician education in depression recognition and treatment and restricting access to lethal methods reduce suicide rates. Other interventions need more evidence of efficacy.
As veterans, we remember complaining in the service. It filled time. But, when you complained to a leader you were expected to bring a suggestion. Instead of just complaining about suicide, let’s make suggestions. If you don’t want to talk about access to guns – and we have to figure that out, how about this? Attach the C-SSRS to your articles? Anyone can ask these six questions, then take the next step. Call 9-1-1. It’s that simple. Stay with your buddy. Go to the emergency room. Call 9-1-1. Lots of other stuff will happen. To a live person. With options. Or link to the “Means Matter” campaign. Do something. Get after it.