Salt Lake Veterans Association hopes to reverse upward trend in suicide rates

Posted at 9:29 PM, Aug 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-20 23:29:09-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A new report says veteran suicide rates are climbing at an alarming pace, and now the Salt Lake Veterans Administration is stepping up their efforts to keep military members from ending their lives.

The new report from the Veterans Administration indicates as many as 20 veterans a day end their own lives nationwide, which marks a 32 percent increase since 2001.

“Over the past decade, suicide rates have gone up across all branches of service, but they have gone up more rapidly in the Army as well as the Marine Corps,” said Craig Bryan, an executive director for the National Center for Veteran Studies at the University of Utah. "We're seeing a more rapid increase, especially amongst female veterans."

And, it's not just active duty service members who are at risk.

"More recently, the DOD has been tracking National Guard and reserve components separate from active duty, and what they have found is that, in the National Guard, the suicide rates are going up even higher than what we see in the active duty side of the house,” Bryan said.

The Salt Lake VA is working to reverse that trend. A health summit held this week highlighted some of the biggest challenges in suicide prevention tactics.

"We actually aren't yet able to accurately predict who is going to die by suicide, many individuals who are suicidal choose to live, which is a very good thing, and many don't,” Bryan said.

So, the question becomes: How do we help these veterans? The VA says they have found a 30-minute intervention can help cut suicide rates by as much as 75 percent.

"This intervention helps service members and veterans to reconnect with their desire to live, to find their purpose and meaning in life, and it also sort of gives them a checklist of what to do when you feel overwhelmed and you’re not sure what to do,” Bryan said.

The intervention plan showcased at the summit is something mental health workers can take back to their communities.

“We did actually have one person that was in the process of committing suicide, he was found and we brought him back, we were able to work with him, he now has a new way of life,” said Rob Redford, a licensed clinical social worker from Pocatello, Idaho.

Bryan said their efforts are always evolving.

“Understanding that there's new treatment, new research, new therapies all the time, that's part of the key,” Bryan said.

Many hope these new methods are a step in the right direction.

“We can't help everybody, but we sure would like to try,” Redford said.

The veterans crisis line connects military members, their families, and friends with Department of Veterans Affairs responders. It can be reached by calling 1-800-273-8255 then pushing 1.

More information is available here.