How do you recognize signs of struggle and have that difficult conversation with a veteran contemplating suicide?

We all probably encounter the same version of the same conversation at least once a day. Either you ask the question or someone asks you: How are you?

how do you answer I bet a lot of people have a similar answer: I’m fine.

But are you really okay? Or are you just being polite? Or respond on autopilot? Or do you not want to burden anyone with what you are going through?

Many of us can identify with not answering this question truthfully for a variety of reasons. But what do you do when an experienced friend or family member tells you they’re fine, but you can see signs that they’re struggling?

How do you recognize signs of a crisis?

The idea of ​​talking to someone about suicide can feel uncomfortable or embarrassing. But small measures such as B. Spending a few minutes talking to a veteran you care about can make a world of difference. You can start looking for signs of a crisis. Although every veteran is different and many show no obvious signs of intent to commit suicide, some actions and behaviors can be a sign that they need help.

start the conversation

Whether you see signs of a crisis or not, it’s important to have a conversation if you think something is wrong. You don’t have to be an expert to talk to a veteran who is facing challenges. You just have to show genuine caring and concern. You can review our Crisis Talking Handout to learn a few things to consider before speaking with the veteran.

Here are some highlights:

  • Make supportive and encouraging comments. Don’t ask intrusive personal questions.
  • Do not bring judgment or emotion into the conversation. Stay calm.
  • Listen more than you speak. Don’t dominate the conversation.
  • Remind her that you are there for her.
  • Let them choose how much to share.

When you and the veteran are ready to talk, here are some ways to start the conversation. You can use these as a guide for face-to-face conversations or over the phone or text:

When replying to a veteran’s answers, remember that simple, reassuring feedback goes a long way in showing support and seeking help:

  • “I’m here for you. What hurts you and how can I help?”
  • “Can we talk for a while and see if we can find a way to protect you now?”

Although you hope your friend or loved one isn’t considering suicide, what if they say they are? Follow these steps:

  1. Let them know they can dial 988 and then press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line, or ask if they can call together.
  2. Assess whether the veteran is in a crisis, and then determine whether he or she has already initiated a plan to kill themselves or harm others, or has an immediate plan to do so with access to resources .
  3. Try to find out where the veteran is and if anyone else is around.
  4. For an immediate emergency or medical assistance, call 911.

Remember, asking if someone is having suicidal thoughts will not give them the idea or increase their risk. It may seem daunting, but it could save her life.

The importance of a simple conversation

A simple “How are you?” could end up being a discussion about suicide. Being prepared for this conversation is key, because even if the veteran isn’t asking for support, they may need it, and this one conversation could help protect them.

Everyone has a role to play in suicide prevention. Make sure the veteran you care about knows the Veterans Crisis Line is available 24/7 by phone (dial 988, then press 1), chat (, or text (838255). available to help during a crisis. You can even contact the Veterans Crisis Line together.

For more articles on suicide prevention, see VA News and Information.


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