Veterans in Utah are at higher risk of suicide after years of improvement

Sep 8, 2021, 5:00 AM | Updated: Sep 13, 2021, 11:36 am
Veterans suicide...
[Photo Credit: Canva Images]

SALT LAKE CITY — The Veterans Affairs Salt Lake City hospital network is trying to help veterans struggling with thoughts of suicide or other mental health crises. 

Veterans suicide on the rise

A new report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs shows suicide among veterans is up slightly after years of improvement

“Their rates of suicide are 1.5 to 2 times higher than the general population. That’s a real concern given the service that they’ve given to the country,” said Dr. Mike Tragakis, a clinical psychologist with the Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs. 

Veterans facing financial struggles are more likely to suffer mental health problems along with a risk of suicide. While on active duty, most of what a soldier needs is provided by the military. It’s a drastic change once they return to civilian life.

Those who bravely served the country are more apt to feel isolated. Many find it hard to establish the same level of camaraderie after retiring or leaving the service. 

Stigma makes seeking help difficult

Making the situation more difficult, the military still struggles with a stigma surrounding seeking professional help. 

Tragakis said, “We’re still coming out of a culture in the military where going to the mental health clinic has been viewed as negative and also as a weakness.” 

He explained how detrimental those attitudes can be toward getting veterans the help they need. Not to mention, silence is part of the conditions suffered by this population.

Tragakis said people with post-traumatic stress disorder will often avoid triggering memories and go out of their way to not talk about their combat experience. Traumatic brain injuries are also common among veterans.

These difficulties can also lead to drug and alcohol addiction in order to escape these difficult emotions. 

Afghanistan exit is another trigger

Many veterans watching the rushed exit from Afghanistan are experiencing a new wave of stressors, said Tragakis. Those stressors can build upon each other to the point of pushing some over the edge. 

“There’s been a sense of disillusionment and discouragement about the service that people have provided,” he said. 

Tragakis added such a withdrawal can be a trigger for veterans who served there to feel hopeless, disconnected, and full of despair.

These emotions can lead to increased thoughts of suicide. 

Help is available

The Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs offers several resources to those who’ve served. For example, the VA can serve as a one-stop shop for veterans seeking medical services and mental health treatment.

“We really want to let people know that it takes courage to ask for help, rather than that’s a sign of weakness,” Tragakis said. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. Press 1 for veteran services. 

Crisis Hotlines

  • Utah County Crisis Line: 801-691-5433
  • Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386

Online resources

Warning signs of suicide

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Thoughts or comments about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.

Information from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 

What to do if you see warning signs of suicide

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs, or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional

Information from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 

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Veterans in Utah are at higher risk of suicide after years of improvement