Veterans and Suicide

Every day 22 veterans die by suicide in the U.S. While suicide is usually considered to be an issue in younger adults, it is a significant issue for veterans of all ages. In fact, veterans 50 years of age and older have higher suicide rates than non-veterans of the same age, and more than 2/3 of all veteran suicides are among men and women 50 years or older. However, rates of suicide are rising in young men who are veterans, especially those 18-25 years of age and are increasing in women veterans of all ages.

Regardless of age or gender, rates of suicide are lower in veterans who use VA health care resources.  Between 1999-2010, rates of suicide in veterans using VA health care resources decreased by nearly 31% while suicide rates in veterans not using VA health care resources increased by 61%.

Many veterans may not show any signs of intent to harm themselves before doing so, but some actions can be a sign that a veteran needs help. Veterans in crisis may show behaviors that indicate a risk of harming themselves.

Veterans who are considering suicide often show signs of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and/or hopelessness, such as:

  • Appearing sad or depressed most of the time
  • Clinical depression: deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating—that doesn’t go away or continues to get worse
  • Feeling anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep
  • Neglecting personal welfare, deteriorating physical appearance
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, and society, or sleeping all the time
  • Losing interest in hobbies, work, school, or other things one used to care about
  • Frequent and dramatic mood changes
  • Expressing feelings of excessive guilt or shame
  • Feelings of failure or decreased performance
  • Feeling that life is not worth living, having no sense of purpose in life
  • Talk about feeling trapped—like there is no way out of a situation
  • Having feelings of desperation, and saying that there’s no solution to their problems

(Source: VA Suicide Report 2012; VA Suicide Report Update 2014; Veterans Crisis Line)

Their behavior may be dramatically different from their normal behavior, or they may appear to be actively contemplating or preparing for a suicidal act through behaviors such as:

  • Performing poorly at work or school
  • Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities—seemingly without thinking
  • Showing violent behavior such as punching holes in walls, getting into fights or self-destructive violence; feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge
  • Looking as though one has a “death wish,” tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving fast or running red lights
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, and/or making out a will
  • Seeking access to firearms, pills, or other means of harming oneself

(Source: VA Suicide Report 2012; VA Suicide Report Update 2014; Veterans Crisis Line)

If you are a veteran or know a veteran who is showing any of the above warning signs, you should connect to VA resources right away:

If you are a veteran who is considering suicide or know a veteran who you think may be considering suicide, here are more links to support and resources: