This post is sponsored by the SHARE Military Initiative at Shepherd Center. All opinions and work are my own.
Every few days we see the headlines: another veteran suicide.
This spring has been especially brutal with huge news stories covering veterans completing suicide near or at VA hospitals. While the headlines are always horrific, we don’t hear about every military-connected suicide. We couldn’t. Sadly, there would be too many to keep up.
It’s an issue that is not only gut-wrenchingly sad, but it’s also one that is personal for people in the military and civilians alike. While it feels so personal, it’s also an issue that can feel overwhelming and huge. But there are many things that you can do to help reduce and bring awareness to veteran suicide:
1. Keep an eye out
If your partner or friend seems to have changed in some way– where they like to go, if they’re drinking more, if they have severe mood or personality swings, or if they’re not interested in what they used to– it might mean that they’re dealing with more than they’re letting on.
2. Share your time
Especially after transitioning out of the military or reintegrating after a deployment, veterans and service members can feel especially alone. It can seem that no one else understands what they’ve experienced, lost, or miss. Whether they choose to isolate themselves or their lives just naturally lend to not spending much time with others, having human contact and feeling connected to other people is an important part of holistic wellness. If you know someone who seems like they might be spending a lot of time alone, invite them for dinner, go on a walk with them, or make another offer that makes sense for your relationship with that person. A little bit of time can go a long way.
3. Join an organization
As mental health and TBI/PTSD awareness increases, so do organizations that make it their main focus. Check out local and national nonprofits promoting mental health and wellness and suicide prevention, especially for those in the military community.
4. Know what’s going on
We know that there’s a problem, and now, more and more research is happening surrounding military community suicides and mental health. In fact, for the first time–ever–the DoD will release data on military dependent suicides. (Yes, you read that right. It’s never happened before.) Understanding what’s happening means that you can be a better advocate.
5. Go to a training
Last year, after a high school student completed suicide, a church in my town hosted a training done in conjunction with the local hospital. Volunteers learned how to spot and understand warning signs as well as how to respond. After a two-hour training, our town had at least 100 more folks who knew a little bit more about how to help someone in crisis. Check with your local hospital to see if any trainings are happening in your area.
6. Support organizations doing good work
Want to take your commitment to military-connected folks who are struggling? Consider supporting organizations that are doing great things in the area of mental health and wellness in the military community. One such organization is the SHARE Military Initiative at Shepherd Center. To date, this Atlanta-based center has changed more than 550 veterans’ lives. Veterans with mild to moderate brain injuries and psychological concerns are able to participate in a twelve-week rehabilitative therapy program, customized to their needs. Veterans who have served since September 11, 2001 are able to participate, including those who left the military with other than honorable discharges.
SHARE is leading the way for other medical centers across the nation because of its comprehensive rehabilitation. Those receiving services at SHARE benefit from life-coaching, cognitive therapy, recreation therapy, neuropsychology, and chaplaincy.
Take a moment to watch Christopher’s experience with the SHARE Military Initiative at Shepherd Center:
7. Share in-person and online
People who are struggling with mental wellness, TBI/PTSD, and/or suicidal thoughts may not be actively looking for resources and help on their own. Their family members may also be struggling with changes in their loved one’s behavior, dealing with TRICARE or other health care providers, and/or their own emotional needs that come with being a caregiver. When you share resources with friends and family– like the SHARE Military Initiative at Shepherd Center–you make it easier for people dealing to ask for help or discover tools that may be helpful.
8. Participate in fundraisers and activities
Fundraisers aren’t just about raising money for programs that provide benefits and supports for veterans… they’re also about raising more awareness. That’s why it’s vital for supporters of causes like suicide prevention to participate in those fundraisers. The Shepherd’s Men Run is one such event that raises funds and awareness for SHARE. Every year, volunteers run half marathons wearing 22-pound flak jackets. Yes. Half marathons. In flak jackets. And they do it for seven consecutive days in multiple states.
This year, the run kicks off on May 21 in Connecticut. Want to provide moral support? See where the Shepherd’s Men will be— and if they’ll be near you in 2019!