One reason for the increase in suicides has been older veterans observing the experiences of soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, said retired Maj. Gen. Rita Aragon, Oklahoma secretary of military and veterans affairs. These older veterans are in high suicide-risk age groups. Seeing younger soldiers experience the horrors of war and experience post-combat trauma opens old wounds, she said.
In Oklahoma, the demographic group most at risk for suicide consists of white males between the ages of 40 and 60, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increased number of suicides in the state could be attributed in part to the large number of white veterans reaching that age bracket.
Contributing factors could include repeated deployments and separation from families and friends, said Mike Brose, director of the Mental Health Association in Tulsa. These experiences cause some military service members to withdraw, abuse alcohol and other substances and neglect their responsibilities, Brose said.
Families who see suicidal indicators such as these should ask military family members if they are thinking of hurting themselves, persuade them to seek help and refer them to an appropriate agency, he said.
This QPR method — question, persuade and refer — empowers everyone to be on the lookout for people thinking of suicide, Brose said.
“There will never be enough health professionals to stem the tide,” he said. “We need to educate the general public to get them the confidence and tools in the toolbox to intervene with their loved ones.”
Brose cited programs such as Tulsa’s Coffee Bunker, which provides a place for veterans and service members to come together to talk over coffee and snacks. It’s a better alternative, he said, than meeting at a bar to swap war stories.
Once a veteran is identified as at-risk, the suicide prevention team at the nearest VA facility will work to find the right care, said Juanita Celie, suicide prevention coordinator at the Oklahoma City VA Hospital.