MOULTRIE, Ga. – September is Suicide Prevention Month worldwide, and for many veterans, it’s an important month.
According to Suicide Prevention Supervisor Katherine Eicher of the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, about 20 veterans a day die by suicide in the United States.
“We have three call centers. Ninety-nine percent of those calls are answered within eight seconds by a VA responder. Fourteen of the 20 veterans that die every day are not registered with the VA and have never registered with the VA,” said Eicher. “Let’s say a veteran is feeling depressed and places a call to one of our call centers. With the veteran’s consent, the call will be transferred down to the appropriate VA so that they can get the proper care they need.”
According to Eicher, many of the ones who need help do not seek it.
“What happens is they want their pain to end but not necessarily their life and we can give them the right options,” she said.
Meanwhile in Colquitt County, the number of available resources for those suffering from suicidal thoughts and mental illness continues to grow.
“I do see a number of veterans,” said Dr. Yvonne Cox of Anodyne Counseling, “I think it’s tragic that so many of them do choose suicide because they think they have no other choice and nowhere to go. I just hope we can get the word out and get them the help they need.”
The Valdosta Veterans Assistance Community Based Outpatient Clinic, also an outlet of the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans System, offers a wide variety of services for veterans to use, including mental health care in group, couples and individual settings.
“We have homeless programs, we have group therapy, an art facility in Gainesville, mental health intensive case management programs and community referral and resource centers in Jacksonville since that’s a high population area,” said Eicher.
According to Eicher, about 70% of veterans’ suicides are by firearms. She stressed the importance of firearm storage, suggesting that veterans remove ammo from the firearms and store it as far away from the firearms as possible.
“Suicides are impulsive. If the gun locks or the ammo is separated from the firearm, then that’s a precious moment when you can prevent suicide because you have a couple of moments to say, ‘This isn’t really what I want to do,’” said Eicher. “If I take that firearm out of your presence, the likelihood of finding another way or wanting to find a way to commit suicide goes way down.”
According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, there are a number of risk factors and warning signs to look out for: talking about feeling suicidal, looking for ways to die, increased drug or alcohol use, isolation, sleeping too much or too little, aggression, fatigue and mood change, anxiety, irritability, agitation, humiliation and shame.
“Most of the time they don’t seek help because of shame and embarrassment, being perceived as weak, and not knowing that help is available,” said Eicher. “It’s tragic. Really tragic.”
The Veteran’s Crisis Line can be reached at 1 (800) 273 8255, or by texting 838 255.