Written by Dr. Caitlin Thompson, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Director of Suicide Prevention
Just be there: That’s my challenge to you during Suicide Prevention Month this September. Whether you reconnect with an old friend, grab coffee with a co-worker, or email a distant family member, showing that you care can mean the world to a person who is going through a tough time.
Suicide is a complex issue. In its wake, we often struggle to understand why people take their own lives — and ask if there was something we could have done to prevent it. I’ve been there, feeling confused and searching for answers. Through my work with Veterans Affairs’ Suicide Prevention program, I’ve learned that it’s important to remember this is a public health issue, and no single factor leads to suicide.
But while the problem is complex, there are simple ways to help people who may be at risk for suicide. We can all play a role in suicide prevention. To do so, it’s important to learn about the many mental health and suicide prevention related resources available, as well as the signs that someone may be in crisis.
How to help. VA takes an integrated approach to suicide prevention, because family members, friends, and community members all can take simple actions to support someone in crisis. I’m especially passionate about educating the public about suicide prevention. My goal is to not only empower but also equip everyone to help prevent suicide. I know that this approach works and that together, we can make a difference.
Here are some ways that you can be there for someone:
- Check in with family members, friends, and acquaintances, and really listen when they need support. Start a caring conversation if you are concerned about someone. Even something as simple as asking, ‘I’ve been noticing that you seem to be a bit down and am concerned about you — is everything OK?,’ can open the door. To learn about other simple ways that you can be there for someone you care about and find out how to start those conversations, click here.
- Learn the signs of crisis. Then you can look out for important signals to determine whether a Veteran or Service member should be put in touch with sources of care and support.
- Become familiar with suicide prevention resources. At the heart of VA’s Suicide Prevention program are dedicated Suicide Prevention Coordinators (SPCs) who help Veterans navigate VA’s network of care and connect them with the most appropriate treatment and support plans. SPCs listen to their concerns and learn about what they’re going through to identify the right resources for them. Find your local SPC here.
Treatment works. If you’re concerned about someone, help them get connected to care — because treatment really does work. During my clinical work at the Denver VA Medical Center, there was an older Vietnam era Veteran who had nearly died by suicide multiple times. He had an extremely supportive wife that he loved her dearly, but he was dealing with serious depression. As I worked together with his wife and his VA treatment team, we were able to manage his symptoms, and he began to feel better. He started to re-engage in the activities he used to love, and his wife noticed a remarkable difference. I’ve kept him in mind as I’ve continued my work in suicide prevention as a reminder that the efforts we make and the treatment VA provides are crucial to so many Veterans.
If you or a Veteran or Service member you know is exhibiting any of these signs, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or text to 838255 to get confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
During Suicide Prevention Month this September — and year-round — reflect on your everyday interactions and make it a point to check in with a family member or friend you haven’t heard from in a while. To me, there is nothing more important than helping support Veterans and connecting them with the care they deserve. It all starts with being there.