Help a Veteran in Crisis by Learning the Warning Signs

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December 3, 2021
Director's Corner masthead
Director’s Corner
December 3, 2021

Help a Veteran in Crisis by Learning the Warning Signs

Two men having a conversation on a couch

Suicide is a national problem. The rates among Veterans are 1.5 times higher and continue to rise. Changes in a Veteran’s behavior or moods could be a sign they are in crisis.

Having a simple, supportive conversation with someone can make a big difference if they’re going through a challenging time – but sometimes, it’s hard to know where to start. That’s why knowing the VA S.A.V.E. method is important. These steps will teach you when to reach out and how to compassionately act if you encounter a Veteran who is suicidal.

Signs of suicidal thinking should be recognized:

  • Look out for abnormal behavior: withdrawing from family and friends, increasing alcohol or drug use, mood swings, sleeplessness, rage, and hopelessness.
  • Signs that require immediate attention include talking about death or suicide, self-destructive behavior – especially when it involves alcohol, drugs and/or weapons, looking for ways to die, and thinking about hurting or killing themselves.

Ask the most important question:

  • How you ask the question is pivotal: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
  • DO ask the question if you’ve identified warning signs or symptoms; DON’T ask the question to imply “no” is the answer: “You aren’t thinking of killing yourself, right?”
  • If you ask the question, make sure you’re in a safe environment and there is enough time to have a conversation about it.

Validate the Veteran’s experience:

  • When talking about suicide, be willing to listen and allow the Veteran to express what they’re feeling. Do not judge their feelings but do reiterate there is help available.

Encourage treatment and Expedite getting help:

  • Don’t keep the Veteran’s suicidal behavior or thoughts a secret and do not leave him or her alone. Encourage them to seek immediate help or call 911.
  • Call the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1.

Although some Veterans might not show clear signs of suicidal behavior or self-harm, they are more likely to answer direct questions when asked about their intentions. This may feel extreme, but it is important to remember that asking someone if they’re having suicidal thoughts will not give them the idea or increase the risk. If a Veteran’s emotional struggles and health challenges are leading to thoughts of suicide, a conversation could save their life.

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