Suicide is never the answer. Find help here.
There are never any “right things to say” when it comes to talking about suicide. The important thing is that we talk about it.
It’s more common than many people may realize, with about one-third (32.8%) of warriors reporting having thoughts related to suicide in the past two weeks, according to a Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) survey of the wounded warriors it serves.
If you or someone you know seems to be struggling, try to speak up. Ask your friends how they’re really doing and learn to be comfortable sharing the same information in return. Let’s get to the bottom of how we can make this a more normal part of conversation.
Overcoming Barriers to Care
One of the biggest barriers to getting help is the stigma that surrounds suicide.
“People don’t want to be judged, and ultimately, excluded,” said Dr. Jonathan Singer, president of the American Association of Suicidology. “There is fear about the consequences of speaking up — whether that means you’re looked over for a job or not accepted socially. But in the moments we’re struggling the most, we’re fighting the hardest — so it’s actually a courageous place to be in. Figuring out who to talk to is really important.”
Many people have strong feelings about reaching out to get help — whether it’s from a therapist, friend, or the VA. WWP is a safe option for post-9/11 veterans when they need to talk. The nonprofit’s free telephonic support line offers a friendly, reassuring voice to warriors and their family members who are managing the transition to civilian life, coping with wounds of war, or facing other issues.
The WWP Talk program calls each warrior or family member every week at the same time and on the same day. Calls are 20 minutes long. The program is a useful first step to overcoming barriers to mental health care.
“It’s as easy as answering the phone,” said Kelly Parker, WWP Talk manager. “You can do it from your safe space — your home. When you start to talk to someone in a non-clinical setting, you start to realize it’s not as scary as you thought it was.”
Location is another barrier for someone who is considering suicide. If you’re not physically close to a mental health provider, that adds another layer of burden to overcome. WWP Talk can serve warriors and their families anywhere. They’ve even connected with warriors in Germany and Japan. Despite the time difference, if the warrior or family member is available, WWP Talk will call.
“If you’re emotionally or physically isolated, we are here,” Kelly said. “Some warriors don’t feel comfortable leaving their homes. We meet warriors exactly where they are on recovery journeys.”
Resources That Can Help
If someone is in immediate crisis, the Veterans Crisis Line is available at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). For less emergent concerns, the WWP Talk team is prepared to help warriors and families work through suicidal thoughts.
Everyone on the WWP Talk team is ASIST-trained. This training teaches participants to recognize when someone may have thoughts of suicide and how to respond. The team will build a safety plan with warriors and connect them with resources and programs tailored to what they’re dealing with.
“Often, warriors open up with WWP Talk, but not necessarily with a civilian counselor,” Kelly said. “In one case, a warrior was having suicidal thoughts but hadn’t admitted it to his therapist yet. We encouraged him to be open with his therapist and stayed on the phone while he three-way called his therapist to share what was really going on.
“We know we cannot do it alone,” Kelly added. “We are just one piece of the support puzzle. In this and all cases, we ensure warriors and their families connect with the appropriate level of care.”
WWP Talk has also stayed on the phone with someone who was actively suicidal as they drove more than an hour to the VA. In some cases, WWP Talk will refer warriors to other programs, such as Warrior Care Network® or the Combat Stress Recovery Program, depending on the warrior’s needs.
Strategies for Coping
Finding someone you trust is crucial when it comes to coping with suicidal thoughts. Understandably, this doesn’t come easy to many people. Once WWP builds a relationship and rapport with a warrior or family member, the team helps them set goals and develop coping skills.
“Practicing coping skills before you’re in crisis is the most helpful thing,” according to Jonathan at the American Association of Suicidology. “It then gives you resources you can easily access when you need them. Even if you doubt it’ll work in the moment, at least you have something to try that you don’t have to figure out — when you’re already using all your mental energy to get through tough thoughts.
“There’s listening to music, journaling, taking a walk — all the standard stuff — but what makes it a coping skill is connecting it with the distress you feel when in crisis, and saying ‘This reduces my stress. I don’t feel as stressed,’” Jonathan continued. “It doesn’t cure it, but it stops it for a minute. It helps break the cycle and provide powerful relief. Being able to come up with these coping skills in advance, and then practicing them, is really important for addressing suicide risk.”
Celebrating small victories is one way to stay hopeful and remind yourself that there are good things in life. Maybe your goal is going to the grocery store by yourself. You get ready, drive to the store, and sit in the parking lot for 20 minutes. This is not a failure. It took a lot of strength to leave the house and get to the store. Every step counts — getting dressed, getting in your car, and driving. These are three victories worth celebrating.
WWP Talk is there to take every step with warriors and family members.
“It is such a gift for someone to feel hope that they can care about others and that others care about them,” Kelly said.
WWP Talk serves the most isolated warriors. WWP survey data shows a larger portion of those the program serves (83%) feel isolated compared to the general warrior population (75%).
These warriors are often the ones most in need of care, and they find it with WWP Talk. “I believe it’s because we’re able to overcome many obstacles to care,” Kelly said. “We are easily accessible because all you need is a phone. I think WWP Talk can help warriors easily test the waters, and then eventually make the decision to try clinical care.”
Asking for Help
Asking for help is huge. Even if you have no idea how you want someone to help or what you’re exactly asking for, getting your thoughts out there is a giant, brave step.
“WWP Talk can be life-changing for a warrior who reaches out to us,” Kelly said. “Warriors can count on us, and once we have that relationship, if they’re having suicidal thoughts, they know they can open up with us and that we won’t run away.
“It’s not just a phone call,” Kelly continued. “It’s that human connection. People are not designed to be alone. Having suicidal thoughts can be very isolating, but we want to be there every step of the way.”
If you need immediate help, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and press 1. WWP is also available to connect veterans and their families to programs, services, and resources that can help.
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.