Studies by the Department of Defense have shown that suicide prevention services offered by military organizations can have a positive impact on personnel. Suicide prevention programs, however, must address the most pertinent concerns to truly help personnel recover from the stress that they experience during active or reserve duty. The National Guard suicide prevention program has taken a leadership position in providing guardsmen with the highest level of suicide prevention services.
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Increased Numbers of Suicides
The number of military personnel who commit suicide is staggering. In 2012, more people serving in Afghanistan have lost their lives to suicide than enemy attacks. Obviously, military organizations need to provide a higher level of service to address these frightening numbers.
The National Guard took an important step when it recognized the rising number of suicides. While this is not solely restricted to those in the military (suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst 25-34 year-olds), there is a noticeable and troubling trend showing that the military’s branches have not done a good enough job addressing this and related issues.
Reasons for the Suicide Increase
There are several potential reasons that military personnel have higher risks of committing suicide. Unfortunately, many guardsmen and their families do not understand the reasons behind suicidal ideation.
Some of the underlying reasons that can cause military personnel to commit suicide include
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – An anxiety disorder that can cause guardsmen to feel threatened long after they have experienced a psychological trauma. In many cases, the person feels that he is repeating the traumatic event over and over. Suicide can start to seem like the only escape.
- Depression – Clinical depression can make guardsmen feel worthless and unhappy with their lives. Depression often occurs because military personnel cannot make a healthy adjustment to civilian life or they cannot cope with the stress that they experienced during active duty.
- Legal or Financial Troubles – Military personnel who have mental health issues often find themselves facing legal and financial troubles. This not only adds to their stress, but can also lead to behavioral problems that make suicide seem like a solution.
Recognizing Risks of Suicide
The National Guard suicide prevention program provides mental health counseling that can help guardsmen cope with changes in their lives and the stresses that they experienced while serving their countries.
The National Guard encourages officers to pay attention to warning signs of suicide exhibited by guardsmen under their command. Those with higher ranks have a responsibility to make sure everyone within the National Guard seeks mental health treatments when needed.
Family and friends also play a key role in recognizing the warning signs of suicidal ideation. Guardsmen often hide symptoms when in the company of their peers and officers. They do not want to seem weak, so they pretend that they do not have problems. Family and friends often have a window into the guardsman’s true experience.
Some signs that a guardsmen is at a greater risk of suicide include
- Increased drinking or substance abuse – this is often used as a way to escape from mental health problems. Over time, though, using drugs and alcohol excessively can add to those problems and even make the person more likely to commit suicide.
- Isolation – those at risk of suicide often isolate themselves from friends and family members. They might decline invitations to venture outside of the house or even participate in activities that they once enjoyed.
- Erratic or impulsive behaviors – these behaviors often show that the person does not care about his or her well-being.
- Talking about suicide – this is often a cry for help.
- Changes in personality – extreme personality changes can indicate mental health problems.
These signs do not necessarily mean that a guardsmen will commit suicide, but they do put him or her at a higher risk.
Mental Health Counseling From the National Guard
National Guard benefits include health insurance that guardsmen can use to receive counseling. This, however, is obviously not enough. That’s why the National Guard has initiated education campaigns to make everyone connected to the military community more aware of the dangers of suicide.
By knowing more about mental health issues and increased risks, guardsmen and their loved ones can encourage treatment when they spot the warning signs of suicide.