National Suicide Prevention Month is observed throughout the month of September by health care providers, mental health advocates, survivors, and community members across the United States.
National Suicide Prevention Month is observed throughout the month of September by health care providers, mental health advocates, survivors, and community members across the United States. The Ralph H. Johnson VA Health Care System dedicates the entire month of September to help raise awareness around suicide, the risk associated with suicide, and signs and steps that Veterans and loved ones can take to help mitigate suicide risk.
During September, the RHJVAHCS is raising awareness by keeping it’s Veteran population mindful and educated on suicide. Suicide Prevention Coordinators and their partners (e.g., chaplain services, inpatient services) have tables outside of the medical center with information and educational material for Veterans who walk into the hospital, social media postings with information on who to call or contact if a Veteran is experiencing signs that a Veteran may be thinking about suicide, extra information in the form of elevator boards, flyers, and digital banners around the hospital, and events that have been held throughout the hospital to help Veterans with mental health concerns and/or thoughts of suicide.
Kalita McBride, a suicide prevention coordinator at the RHJVAHCS spoke about the efforts that her team takes to help at-risk Veterans and educate the Veteran population.
“We are extremely proactive,” said McBride. “One of our top priorities is to enhance mental health engagement with Veterans in our community.”
McBride went on to say that once a Veteran is identified as high risk, they are scheduled four mental health appointments within their first month of identification and then attend follow-up appointments monthly.
“The appointments are critical to make sure that our Veterans have coping skills for suicidal ideations and a safety plan in place that they can use as a support tool,” McBride said. ”The mental health team pushes for family members to get involved because of the role that family members play in knowing warning signs and triggers that could affect Veterans. We can’t do it alone here. We need the support of the community and family members to help our Veterans.”
Suicide prevention coordinators have made a concerted effort to help educate local hospitals and health care providers on Veteran risk for suicide and how medical providers outside of the VA can help at-risk Veterans, often in collaboration with the mental health team at the RHJVAHCS.
“Suicide has a huge stigma when it comes to Veterans,” said McBride. “It’s OK to discuss. We need to have these conversations. It is OK to reach out for help. We are here for you.”
Another suicide prevention coordinator at RHJVAHCS who is at the forefront of the battle against suicide is Charles West. He serves as both a suicide prevention coordinator and the VITAL program coordinator, working with Veterans who are adjusting to college life after their service in the military and to make sure that any struggles that they may face mentally or physically are met with care and help from the VA.
“Our goal is to get in touch with Veterans before they need the crisis line,” said West. “Our team is much larger now and we can truly focus on outreach. No problem is too small to ask for help. We are here for our Veterans.”
West says that he has seen a larger emphasis on early prevention of suicide and suicidal ideations, as well as mental health team members taking more responsibility and initiatives on being proactive in care for our Veterans’ mental health.
Preventing suicide is a key focus not just for the Mental Health Services team, but for the Ralph H. Johnson VA Health Care System and the Department of Veterans Affairs as whole. The VA offers multiple avenues for Veterans to get the help they need.
- Veterans Crisis Line: Connect with caring and qualified responders with the Department of Veterans of Affairs.
- Ralph H. Johnson VA Health Care System: Connect with a mental health specialist at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Health Care System.
- Call: (843) 789-7311 to schedule an appointment or speak with a local mental health specialist
A recent VA study found that Veterans using VA care had lower suicide rates than those that did not use VA care. For women Veterans the rate was 75% lower and for men it was 20% lower than those not using VA health care. Learning and watching for signs of concerning behavior can help you and your loved ones get help!
Some signs of concerning behavior include:
- Hopelessness, feeling like there is no way out
- Anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness, or mood swings
- Feeling like there is no reason to live
- Feelings of rage or anger
- Doing risky activities without thinking
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Withdrawing from family and friends
If you notice any signs of concerning behavior here are some things you can do:
- Start a conversation: Mention the signs that made you talk to them. Stay calm and let the person know you want to help them. Don’t leave the person alone.
- Listen, express concern, and reassure the individual: Let the person know you care and that you take the situation seriously. Letting the person know you care will go a long way in establishing a support system.
- Create a safety plan: Ask the person if they have access to anything that could harm them and call for help if you feel the situation is dangerous.
- Get the individual help: Provide resources for the individual. Call the Veteran’s crisis line at 1(800)-273-8255. Or if you feel the situation is severe, take the individual to the closest emergency room or seek help from a professional immediately.
For more information regarding suicide prevention please click here.