To take one’s own life is a final act of fear and pain, when the ability to have even hope for a better tomorrow is pushed away by darkness and despair.
It shouldn’t surprise us that hard times lead to a spike in suicides. We’ve all heard stories of people leaping from buildings during the stock market crash of 1929.
The latest recession also affected people’s mental health, something detailed in a recent study from the University of Cambridge in England showing that suicide rates in the U.S. climbed from 2008 to 2010. The situation was significantly worse among males than females.
It shouldn’t surprise us, either, that too many men and women returning from war are at higher risk of killing themselves after the trauma of their experience.
It seems reasonable that veterans returning from war during a recession would be hit that much harder by the kinds of difficulties that can lead to suicide.
The hope would be that, as times improve, the number of veteran suicides would go down. Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be borne out by the facts, according to an extensive 2012 study from the Veterans Health Administration.
The administration updated its study this year and showed that suicide rates remain stubbornly high among veterans, despite significant efforts at intervention.
It’s difficult to know exactly what to do about a society’s suicide rates in general. The loss of a job, the fear of foreclosure — these can be deeply traumatizing events. In times of economic crisis, we all have to be more vigilant about those among us who are suffering.
With veterans, especially those who have recently returned from war, there could be better answers. The population is known, and there are structures in place like the VHA to serve them.
The VHA has worked hard since 2007 to address suicide rates. Its doctors, nurses and caregivers have made some progress.
The rate of suicide among VHA users with existing mental health conditions has declined. The rate for men ages 35-64 has decreased. And the mortality rate has fallen for the first year among those who survived a suicide attempt.
But that hasn’t brought down the total suicide rate, which is especially pernicious among young male veterans.
More help is needed. Recently, a new program called the Texas Veterans Initiative was launched through a partnership of the state and the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. The initiative will provide funds to programs throughout the state that are working creatively to help veterans with mental health needs.
The $1 million in seed money from the state is a start. But more will be needed from many sources, including private donors, to ensure that the initiative has the widest possible reach.
The problem of suicide, among veterans or the population in general, won’t solve itself. Only organized effort and awareness of the need will help us help one another.