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Mary J. Weiler, Published November 14 2013

Letter: Honor, respect North Dakota veterans by saving their lives

I would like to take the opportunity this Veterans Day week to join in raising awareness of the problem of suicide among our active military, veterans and their families. It is important we recognize suicide and address it as a public health crisis. Being aware of suicide risk factors and warning signs is the first step. We can make a difference by knowing the immediate protective actions that can help save a life.

The suicide risk factors for military personnel mirror those for society in general: major depression (feeling down in a way that affects your daily life) or bipolar disorder (severe mood swings); problems with alcohol or drugs; impulsivity and aggression, especially along with a mental disorder; or a previous suicide attempt. A family history of a suicide attempt or mental disorders can also be a risk factor. In addition to these, military personnel may suffer from other contributing factors such as post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.

The warning signs of suicide can include talking or writing about death; expressing hopelessness; feeling humiliated, trapped or desperate; and losing interest in regular activities or losing the ability to experience pleasure. Other warning signs include experiencing insomnia, intense anxiety or panic attacks; being in a state of extreme agitation or intoxication; becoming socially isolated and withdrawing from loved ones. Finally, looking for a way to hurt or kill oneself such as hoarding medicine, purchasing a new firearm when depressed, or searching online for suicide methods are significant warning signs.

What can you do if you observe these warning signs? Take action. Express concern for the suicidal person. Do not leave him or her alone. Remove any lethal means for suicide. Escort the suicidal person to a walk-in clinic or emergency room.

If in immediate need, the Veterans Crisis Line connects to qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders on a toll-free hotline, online chat or text. Call (800) 273-8255 and press 1, chat online, or send a text to 838255 to receive confidential support 24/7, 365 days a year.

Our military personnel and veterans have made great sacrifices. Let’s honor them this veterans week by learning how we can prevent another military death from suicide.

Weiler, Fargo, is chairwoman, North Dakota Chapter, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.