Suicide hotlines are available throughout the United States and many other countries. They provide a lifeline for individuals who are contemplatingsuicide or having suicidal thoughts. The increase in military veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has elevated concern for suicide prevention services among veterans. To address this potential health problem, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has increased its efforts by developing a group of suicide prevention task force teams, suicide prevention programs, increased access to mental health services, and the National Suicide Hotline for veterans. These enhancements to existing programs allow potential suicide attempters to receive desperately needed care through multiple resources. The suicide hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and may be the only outlet accessible to veterans contemplating suicide at particular hours of the day and night. In addition, the VA has worked tirelessly to expand access to other social services through a referral system integrated within the suicide prevention program. These resources include substance abuse programs, marital counseling, and other mental health services.
One of the largest barriers to getting help for suicidal thoughts is the stigma associated with it. For veterans, reaching out for help is seen as a sign of weakness. To combat this challenge, the VA has launched an awareness campaign that describes its suicide prevention program as a source of strength. Until recently, the effectiveness of these new strategies has not been fully measured. In particular, men, who represent the majority of veterans who commit suicide, have been underrepresented in studies focusing on validity and deliverability of suicide programs. To address this gap, Kerry L. Knox of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention at the VA Medical Center in Canandaigua, New York, led a study that assessed how the VA’s suicide hotline has helped veterans.
Knox discovered that the hotline resulted in a dramatic increase in callers admitting that they were indeed veterans. The callers were primarily middle-aged men. The hotline resulted in over 4,000 network referrals for follow-up services to address issues related to suicide such as depression and posttraumatic stress. “Moreover, the VA’s hotline consists of trained clinicians, whereas most community hotline responders have little if any training in crisis intervention,” added Knox. This factor alone may explain the increase in male responsiveness and is an important factor to consider when implementing additional suicide prevention programs aimed at veterans in distress.