Decline in veteran suicides sparks hope as focus on prevention efforts increase

Progress is being made nationally and in Ohio in raising awareness and focusing resources on preventing U.S. veteran suicides, according to local experts.

Between 2005 and 2018 there was an average annual increase in veteran suicides of 48. But in 2019 the number of veteran suicides declined by 399 from the year before, reaching the lowest total since 2007, according to the most recent data available in the 2021 National Suicide Prevention Annual Report released in September by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

Veteran suicides-Ohio and U.S. 2019    
AgeVeteran Suicides-OhioVeteran suicide rate**-OhioVeteran suicides-U.S.Veteran suicide rate-U.S.
18-342944.6 828 44.4
35-547137.8 1,663 32.8
55-7411233.3 2,407 28.8
75+4324.7 1,336 29.6
TOTAL *25733.7 6,261 31.6
*Age-specific counts may not sum to total count because age was not available for all deaths.    
**Rate is per 100,000    
Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs   

Karon Wolfe, suicide prevention coordinator at the Dayton Veterans Administration Medical Center, said there is a lot more openness about mental illness and suicide now than in the past.

“What I do see that I didn’t see 20 some years ago is that people are talking about it more. It’s getting to a point where folks might open up and talk about it and having people really listen and want to learn,” Wolfe said. “How do I help my loved one if I think they are in a crisis? How do I sit with them and allow them to talk? Because talking about suicide is not something that most people do very well.”

Marnie L. Masten, program director of Samaritan Behavioral Health CrisisCare in Dayton, said the spotlight on suicide prevention and movement toward creating a new three-digit national crisis line are going to help “put us in a place where we can really impact this in a much more positive way.”

“So hopefully we are headed in the right direction. I think the more publicity there is around suicide, depression and mental health issues the more that there’s going to be a reduction in stigma around these issues,” Masten said.

All adult suicides - 2019    
AgeAdult suicides-OhioSuicide rate**-OhioAdult suicides-U.S.Suicide rate-U.S.
18-3449118.8 12,913 17
35-5460721.3 15,537 18.8
55-7447617 13,105 17.7
75+16218.9 4,306 19.1
TOTAL 1,736 19.1 45,861 18
**Rate is per 100,000    
Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs   

“And that will help people to want to be in a position to ask for help. It impacts everybody regardless of what your history is, your sexuality is, your race or whatever. Because with every single segment of the population there is suicide risk.”

U.S. veteran suicides in 2019 totaled 6,261, including 257 Ohioans, according to the annual report. All adult suicides totaled 45,861 in the U.S., a rate of 18 per 100,000 people. The rate for U.S. veterans was 31.6 and for Ohio veterans it was 33.7, according to federal data.

Veterans committed suicide at far higher rates for all age groups compared to rates of suicide for the adult U.S. population.

The highest rate nationally was for veterans aged 18-34. who committed suicide at a rate of 44.4 in the U.S., compared to 17 for the adult population.

Among the general adult population in the U.S. the highest suicide rate — 19.1 — was for people aged 75 and older, the data show. The rate for veterans in that age group was 29.6.

“Suicide is a complex problem, with no single cause and no single solution. But it is preventable,” according to a White House fact sheet released last week with a new comprehensive public health strategy for reducing military and veteran suicide.

“Given the multiple factors that may lead to suicide, preventing suicide requires a comprehensive public health approach that harnesses the full breadth of the federal government.”

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

There are resources available to help people who are in crisis or struggling with thoughts of suicide. Those include:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255
  • Veterans Crisis Line - 1-800-273-8255 Press 1 or Text 838255
  • Dayton Veterans Affairs Medical Center Suicide Prevention Team 937-268-6511 Ext. 2675

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