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PREVENTS aimed at reducing Service Member and Veteran suicide

Group of airmen hugging each other Airmen grieve following a memorial service for a fellow airmen. (Photo by Tech Sgt. Teri Eicher, 134th Air Refueling Wing.)

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“The second leading cause of death between ages 10 to 35 is suicide,” according to Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, executive director of the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS). In our nation, suicide has increased by 33% over the last 25 years across all demographics. These are challenging statistics that Warrior Care and PREVENTS are concerned about.

Warrior Care Recovery Coordination Program provides our recovering service members, military caregivers, and their family/friends with the right knowledge to prevent these tragedies.

Launched in June 2020, PREVENTS focuses on a holistic public health approach to suicide prevention. PREVENTS collaborates with 10 other Federal agencies to emphasize improved overall health and well-being.

Veterans can lead this movement by setting an example to civilians, as they are one and a half times more likely to commit suicide, with women veterans being two and a half times more likely out of the Veteran population, compared to civilians.

One of the many myths about suicide is that mental illness is a risk factor. Van Dahlen explained how, “Not all risk factors are related to mental illness. It is a combination of factors and can include legal troubles, financial stress, chronic physical health, and feeling of hopelessness.” Those who attempt suicide or having suicidal thoughts are dealing with a combination of risk factors that happen either abruptly or over a long period of time.

Recovering service members face a variety of risk factors that can negatively affect their mental health and well-being, added Van Dahlen. For recovering service members transitioning into the civilian world, many have shared that they lose a feeling of purpose and disconnectedness with the Military community. These are also risk factors that can contribute to an increase in suicide rate for the Recovering Military community.

According to Van Dahlen, protective factors play a role in lowering suicidal risk factors, this includes access to appropriate health and mental health care, good physical health, belonging to a faith-based community, sense of belonging, and more. By being knowledgeable about protective factors, you can provide someone who is at risk, or yourself, with the appropriate tools and resources to help, shared Van Dahlen. “The goal (of PREVENTS) is to educate people on finding protective factors;” added Van Dahlen. “So, finding what works for each individual, or what collection of things work.”

According to Van Dahlen and the Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO), one of the easiest and most effective factors for those at risk, is simply reaching out. When you take the time to reach out to your loved ones, that’s a step in a positive direction.

The PREVENTS’ REACH campaign is designed for everyone, and individuals can sign the PREVENTS Pledge to REACH. By taking the pledge, a service member is making a commitment to learn more about risk and protective factors, promote PREVENTS resources and activities, and inspiring others to take the pledge.

“We all know that suicide prevention is a national public health challenge and that everyone has a role to play,” concluded Van Dahlen.

To take the pledge, visit https://www.wearewithinreach.net/pledge/.

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