Reducing feelings of loneliness and social isolation may reduce the likelihood of dying by suicide.
Understanding risk and protective factors is important to preventing Veteran suicides. “From Science to Practice” is a series of products designed to communicate the research in an easy-to-understand and quick-to-read format for clinicians and other stakeholders within VA and partnering organizations.
The latest issues address “Loneliness and Social Isolation – Risk Factors for Suicide and Ways Veterans Differ from the General Population.”
Loneliness and social isolation
Loneliness is among the strongest predictors of suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and other suicidal behavior. Furthermore, loneliness and social isolation have been linked to other physical and mental health outcomes.
Loneliness may also be more closely associated with suicidality and poor mental health than other aspects of social connection, such as perceptions of social support and interpersonal conflict.
Loneliness is common among Veterans, with one study finding that more than half of Veterans felt lonely some of the time or often. Veterans in particular may face barriers to involving others in their mental health care, such as feeling as though they would be a burden or a desire for self-reliance.
Screening for loneliness among Veterans with mental health conditions may help identify those at risk for suicidal behavior. Resources such as the Veterans Crisis Line and VA Reach Out are available to help Veterans experiencing loneliness.
How Veterans are different
Veterans die by suicide at a higher rate than non-Veterans. Veteran suicide rates consistently increased between 2001 and 2018, and while Veteran suicide rates decreased at a faster pace than non-Veteran rates between 2018 and 2020, Veteran suicide rates continue to exceed those of non-Veterans. There are important differences between the Veteran and non-Veteran populations that may help to explain these disparate suicide rates.
Veterans may be more likely to have had adverse childhood experiences, such as bullying, emotional and physical abuse or sexual trauma than non-Veterans. Veterans also have experiences during their military service that may be risk factors for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, such as combat exposure and morally injurious events.
Veterans experience additional risk factors for suicide immediately following separation from service and throughout the rest of their life course. Veterans are more likely to report suicidal ideation and suicide attempts during the transition to civilian life, as well as worsening mental health and social outcomes.
Moreover, Veterans in VA care experience a higher prevalence of mental and physical health conditions that are associated with suicide risk.
Want to know how you can help? Read “From Science to Practice” on “Loneliness and Social Isolation – Risk Factors for Suicide.”
This post, Reducing loneliness may reduce the likelihood of suicide, was originally published by the Veteran's Administration.
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