Veterans, Depression, Suicide, and the Correct Response

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few days trying to decide how best to word/write this post.  The inspiration behind it is a couple of situations I’ve found myself in dealing with other veterans and the subject of suicide.  Two of the most heartbreaking things I’ve become aware of is:  1. The veteran community eats its own wounded; and 2. The veteran community can be among the cruelest when someone asks for help.

A lot of veterans, especially if you follow any of the veteran-oriented groups on Facebook, are very aware of and very vocal about the 22 veterans who die by suicide a day.  The number goes back to an old study and there are even questions today about whether the number is actually higher and not properly tracked,

Veterans too often play the my-experience-was-worse-than-yours-and-is-therefore-more-valid game and write off the pains and experiences of other veterans.  Not every veteran experiences even the same experience the same way.  Thus, the situation where three veterans can be in the same incident and one comes away normal, one comes away with PTSD, and one comes away with with post-traumatic growth.  This is especially troublesome when dealing with veterans who deal with depression, anxiety, and/or other mental illness issues that may not even be related to direct combat.

For starters, the suicidal brain of the depressed is already not reacting rationally.  Depression is a chemical imbalance.  The brain is not having a rational reaction to anything.  Instead, the brain is having an irrational reaction to existence in general.  The person suffering from this is not going to react positively to rational reasons why they should hold on to life.

This is where even the most well meaning of friends and loved ones can be the most dangerous.  Chastising someone about their experiences, especially with language that implies someone else is worse off, or the depressed person has no reason to be depressed is counter productive.  Most likely, your “rational” suggestions just became the permanent voice version that person’s brain now voices its own self-criticisms of the person being a burden on those around them and that they’d be better off dead.

Discounting someone’s experiences because they are not you experiences, discounting someone’s experiences because they are not “bad enough/serious enough”, or discounting someone’s experiences because of any reason that makes you look at the other individual as anything other than a person in pain, you are now a contributing factor and not part of the solution.

Want to help bring down the 22 veteran suicides a day number, reach out to your veteran friends.  Just be there.  Just listen to them.  Don’t judge.  Don’t try to solve whatever they are experiencing, just let them vent.  Let them know you are a resource they can count on anytime day or night.

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