Why you should check in with veterans this holiday season

The holidays can be difficult for veterans and active-duty military members, who already are particularly vulnerable to death by suicide, and the American Legion’s “Be The One” campaign says it’s OK to ask about it.

The campaign says that if you think someone is struggling, you should be the one to reach out and potentially save a life.

“If they voice thoughts and concerns about suicide, or that life is not worth living, we ought to recognize and know that talking with him is not going to make it worse,” said M. David Rudd, a former president of the University of Memphis, distinguished university professor of psychology and director of the Rudd Institute for Veteran and Military Suicide Prevention. “An expression of caring and concern will always help and always make it better.”

When somebody is coughing or having other physical problems during flu season, “We ask … are they feeling OK? We need to do the same thing,” he said. “We need to ask her, ‘How are you feeling? How are you doing?’ And just having a conversation, when somebody is feeling down low, isolated, is really critical.”

On average, in 2020, there were 16.8 veteran suicides per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — nearly double the number for non-veterans.

The U.S. Army suffered more suicides in 2021 than any other year since the Sept. 11 attacks, a Defense Suicide Prevention Office report found.

Rudd outlined what to look for: Someone who’s having difficulty might not be sleeping well, may seem isolated and detached, depressed, or sad. They might say things such as “I just don’t feel like life is worth living,” or “I feel hopeless about the future,” or “I feel like a burden.”

If that’s the case, Rudd said, “Engage them in a conversation about what’s going on. And simply ask them, ‘Can you tell me a little bit more about how you’re feeling and what kind of difficulty you’re having? What kinds of things are you struggling with?’ And allow them the room and the space to talk about that.”

Help and resources are available. The Military/Veterans Crisis Line number is 800-273-8255, via text at 838255 or chat at VeteransCrisisLine.net, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a specific line devoted to veterans. Just dial 988 and then press the number 1 to talk with a veteran.

“The 988 number is always available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Rudd said. “You can talk with somebody that is familiar with the military environment, the unique demands of military life — someone that will be more likely to understand the unique issues that veterans struggle with.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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