The complicated truth about veteran suicide
National campaigns like the 22 Pushup Challenge have shed light on the crisis of veteran suicide in the United States. But the media story — painting suicide as a crisis of post-9/11 veterans with PTSD — doesn’t entirely reflect what we actually know about veteran suicide.
That 22 number? It’s slightly inflated, but a new VA study tells us the number of veterans who die by suicide each day — 20 — is still too high. And, the veteran suicide rate is more than twice the rate for the average American.
Yet if we dive deeper into the statistics, the prevailing narrative doesn’t entirely hold up:
- Most veterans who die by suicide are actually older – almost 70% are over 55. Men and women who’ve returned from combat more recently show a higher risk of dying by suicide, but they are a much smaller group.
- Most post-9/11 veterans — 86.5% — don’t exhibit any signs of PTSD.
- Veterans who have deployed are actually less likely to die by suicide than those who did not. So experiences in combat don’t appear to be the main drivers of veteran suicide.
- When we control for demographics like gender and age, the risk of suicide among veterans is only about 20% higher than the general population.
- People who have access to guns are 3x more likely to die by suicide. Veterans happen to be more likely to be gun owners than the general population, so this might account for that remaining 20% increase in risk.
Perhaps most eye-opening of all: those 20 veterans who die by suicide each day are only a fraction of national the toll. Daily, 117 Americans die by suicide.
Here are a few things we can do right now about this national crisis.
Are you a veteran?
Find information on mental health services at the VA here.
Are you a veteran in need of help? Learn more about the Veterans Crisis Line at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net, call Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255
(press 1) or text 838255
Consider joining the Sierra Club’s military outings program.
Want to get involved in preventing veteran suicide?
Give An Hour: http://www.giveanhour.org
Know the 5 Signs: Campaign to Change Direction: http://www.changedirection.org/#five-signs
Join a workout with Team Red, White and Blue.
If you’d like to dig deeper into the data on veteran suicide, read the recently released report from the VA here.
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