Suicide and the Military

By Amy Menna, Ph.D., LMHC, CAP

Dealing with Suicidal Thoughts

Warning Signs

When assessing whether a soldier may be suicidal, it’s best if there’s open communication between the soldier and those around him. It’s very helpful to identify some of the issues from speaking directly to the soldier. Other times, a discussion with a loved one may be an avenue to evaluate the signs and discuss the level of concern. If there are signs, a trained professional may be able to help.

The following is a list of warning signs a soldier may exhibit when he or she has suicidal thoughts or plans.

  • One or more of the disorders discussed above
  • Threatening to kill themself
  • Talking about death or being “passively suicidal”
  • Feeling like there is no reason to live
  • Rage or uncontrolled anger – wanting to seek revenge
  • Engaging in high risk activities
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Dramatic mood changes – impulsiveness or poor self-control
  • Irrational thinking or paranoia
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Giving away possessions
  • Recent losses – physical, financial, or personal
  • Family history of suicide
  • History of abuse – physical, sexual, or emotional
  • Feelings of being trapped, hopelessness, despair, shame, humiliation, disgrace or anger
  • Making arrangements “just in case” they pass away

Soldiers May Deny the Presence of Suicidal Thoughts

In the best case, lines of communication regarding suicide should be open. In speaking with the soldier directly, a friend or loved one can identify himself or herself up as someone who is knowledgeable and can be helpful. However, there are times that soldiers may deny thoughts of suicide.

Here are a few reasons why this can happen.

  • Soldiers may feel there’s stigma attached to having a mental disorder or suicidal thoughts. Many soldiers believe that, if they discuss these thoughts, they may be labeled as “crazy” or “unstable.”
  • Soldiers do not want to be judged as being “weak.” They are taught to continue fighting despite pain. They believe that if they ask for help, it means that they are not able to handle challenges on their own.
  • Soldiers may feel also fear that the person they confide in may “overreact” and hospitalize the soldier. If they are hospitalized for a psychiatric issue, there may be unknown consequences. They may even fear being discharged from the military.

Veteran-Specific Risks

The following are some risk factors specific to combat veterans. Remember that being in combat, dealing with death, or simply having to live two lives (that of a soldier and that of a civilian) can be reason enough to necessitate a screening for suicidal thoughts.

  • Frequency and lengths of deployments
  • Deployment to hostile environments
  • Exposure to extreme stress
  • Physical or sexual assault while in the military
  • Service related injuries
  • Being a sexual minority

Factors that May Decrease the Risk of Suicide

There are several factors that can serve to protect an individual from having thoughts of suicide. The protective factors listed below should be nurtured in any soldier whether they are currently deployed, on leave, or discharged.

  • Positive social support
  • Spirituality
  • Sense of responsibility to family
  • Children in the home
  • Pregnancy
  • Life satisfaction
  • Positive coping skills
  • Positive problem-solving skills
  • Counseling

 

APA Reference
Amy Menna, Ph.D., LMHC, CAP. (2011). Suicide and the Military. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 17, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/suicide-and-the-military/0006115
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.