Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Research and advice on preventing teen and adult suicide

Critical Questions to Ask About Military and Veteran Suicides

Tough questions on an important issue

This week, "Room for Debate" in the New York Times asks: How can we prevent military suicides?

Taking on one of the most difficult and important topics today, six "debaters" share their perspectives on this issue. After reading their reflections, which you should do, too, here are the questions that stood out for me:

1. If not deployment, then what? Many military personnel who die by suicide have never been deployed. If deployment isn't a critical risk factor, what is?

2. Can we better track veterans? Nancy Berglass and Margaret C. Harrell point out that we know virtually nothing about veterans who die by suicide. We have been able to do a much better job of looking at suicides by active military personnel. What can we do to track - and better serve - veterans?

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3. Unemployment seems linked to suicide risk among veterans. What can we learn so that we better understand how unemployment and suicide risk play out in the general population? If preventing suicide is also about getting access to better jobs and not just about getting access to therapy, how might the role of those working directly with unemployed people change or shift?

4. How can we better help military families? As someone concerned with primary prevention, building resiliency, and child and adolescent mental health, I'm particularly curious about how we can help the children of service men and women.

5. What is the role of military sexual assault and other discrimination against women in military women's suicide risk? I think this question is one of the hardest to engage with - it is layered, full of taboos, and requires us to look critically at not only military culture, but our national culture as a whole. Personally, I don't think we can wait any longer to take that critical look.

These are just a few of the questions these pieces raised for me. What do you think?

Copyright 2011 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved

Photo by Derek Oyen

Elana Premack Sandler, M.S.W., M.P.H., is a public health social worker specializing in violence and injury prevention and adolescent health promotion.

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