By Nancy Achuff, LCSW
Suicide is not a pleasant topic to bring up. Unfortunately, most people have been touched by suicide in one way or another – a close friend, family member, or a famous person they admired.
Through the years, the media has focused attention on various groups of people who have committed or attempted suicide only to be replaced by the next hot topic of interest. One group that the media has not focused on is our nation’s military members and veterans who suffer from chronic pain. These people have served their country with such deep commitment that it is sad we have not met them with the same commitment for their care. It is estimated that 22 veterans die by suicide every day. (1)
Suicide is typically lumped in with mental illness, which still carries such a negative stigma that it is not surprising when someone chooses not to reach out for help. It is easier for veterans with chronic pain to seek out treatment for the pain rather than identifying underlying depression, anxiety and/or other mental health diagnosis.
Here is Kathryn’s story:
“I personally have been affected by suicide of a veteran related to chronic pain. My grandfather was in the Korean War. Upon his return, he had debilitating back pain. He suffered for many years and had numerous back surgeries, which unfortunately did not help. His pain became so unbearable that he sadly took his own life. The family knew that he was not the same person after returning from war, which he never spoke about, but everyone knew the pain was getting to be a lot for him. He never mentioned that his pain had reached a point where he could not manage it. He was a brave and strong man who never wanted anyone to see him in pain. There were not as many resources for chronic pain for soldiers returning from war at that time.
“Now, I am the mother of a son in the military. I see more and more how chronic pain is affecting our military. Even with the amount of resources we have today, there are plenty of veterans that are committing suicide that have never even been to war. Just being in the military alone with the 10-15 mile hikes with 80 pound rucks on their backs, running in their boots, and all the other training they do while running on a lack of sleep takes a tremendous toll on the body. These soldiers go for months … or even years … not seeing their families, and unfortunately maneuvering through administrative and legal issues.”
Kathryn is one of many who have survived the effects of suicide by a veteran. It is not always easy to identify the signs and to know what to do. We have put together a small list to help families and those who know a veteran who is suffering from chronic pain and or depression: (1)
- Stressors and triggering events such as financial, legal or personal relationship issues, health issues, limited social support, events of humiliation,
- Statements or comments about wanting to die,
- Previous attempts or family history of suicide,
- Current or past diagnosis of mental illness or substance abuse,
- Chronic pain,
- Changes in sleep, appetite, social interactions, catastrophizing behaviors, medication misuse, and perceived burdensomeness,
If you, someone you love, or a patient is showing any of these signs, there is help out there. Call the Veteran Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 or visit their website at VeteransCrisisLine.net. You can also send a text message to 838255.
These resources are confidential and provide support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 365 days a year. You can also contact the Family and Children’s Services crisis line at 615-244-7444, which is free and confidential. For any other local crisis resources, dial 211 from your phone.
It is important for each of us to take the time to check on those that may be experiencing some of the above-mentioned signs. Those who are suffering do not always reach out for help. Suicidal ideation should not be ignored, and we need to provide support when we can.
(1) U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: https://www.va.gov