VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System
Unfortunately, suicide in the veteran population is a significant and growing problem and is often related to military experiences and other related or unrelated social problems. In the VA system, you may encounter someone who is considering suicide or who demonstrates several warning signs of potential suicide. Suicide is preventable; therefore it is important to be able to recognize the warning signs of suicide and know what action to take if you encounter someone who has suicidal tendencies or is making threats of suicide. Signs of suicide include:
- threatening suicide
- talking about death or suicide
- seeking access to, or obsession with, drugs, guns, weapons, or other means of personal harm
- substance abuse
- depression and expression of hopelessness
- withdrawal from friends, family, or work
- giving away possessions that have family or personal meaning
- making statements like "they will understand or miss me when I am gone"
If you encounter someone demonstrating any of these warning signs, do not be judgmental or confrontational. Always notify your supervisor if a patient is exhibiting any warning signs of potential suicide. Working with your supervisor, ask if they are thinking about suicide (For example: Are you feeling hopeless about the present/future? If yes ask…Have you had thoughts about taking your life? If yes ask…When did you have these thoughts and do you have a plan to take your life? Have you ever had a suicide attempt?). You should also work with your supervisor to assure the patient’s immediate safety and determine the most appropriate treatment setting. Possible options include:
- refer for mental health treatments or assure the follow–up appointment is made;
- inform and involve someone close to the patient;
- limit access to means of suicide; and/or
- increase contact and make a commitment to help the patient through the crisis.
Most VA medical facilities have a Suicide Prevention Coordinator who may be contacted to intervene, determine the level of threat, and begin the referral process for treatment. Be aware of the warning signs of potential suicide; as a person with direct patient contact, you may be the first link in the recognition and prevention process.
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