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How do I know if I am suicidal?

Have you been thinking that you would be better off dead? Do you wish you could go to sleep and not wake up? Perhaps you have been planning how you would end your life or making preparations for when you’re not here. You may have actually begun to take action to hurt yourself in a way that could kill you. These are increasingly serious levels of what are called suicidal behaviors.

If you are experiencing any of these thoughts or actions, you should seek immediate support. Call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, use the Veterans Crisis Line online chat, or send a text message to the Veterans Crisis Line at 838255. The Veterans Crisis Line provides free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If you feel you are in a crisis, whether or not you're thinking about killing yourself, you can also contact the Veterans Crisis Line. It's better to call sooner, rather than wait for problems to get worse.

Most people who consider suicide have problems they think they can never overcome. They think that no one can help them and that suicide is the only way out. People who are considering suicide may feel:

  • Helpless, like there is nothing they can do to make things better
  • Hopeless, thinking their problem cannot be solved by them or anyone else
  • Worthless, thinking they're unable to help themselves or feeling like a failure
  • Hateful toward themselves
  • Like they are a burden to others
  • As if the pain of living is too much to bear

Some Veterans’ pain may come from having been through traumatic events like the death of someone close to them, seeing people die during their military service, or sexual assault or abuse. Other Veterans’ difficulties may be the result of a major setback such as ending a marriage, losing a job, or feeling as if their honor is lost. Some people may think about suicide due to the buildup of stress, depression, anxiety, or posttraumatic stress that makes life seem as if it’s no longer bearable.

No matter the reason, people don't attempt suicide because they want to die, but because they see suicide as the only way to escape the pain of living. It is important to realize that there are many ways to handle any problem — even if you can’t see a solution yourself. Sometimes you need an outside perspective to see new answers to personal problems.

Medical conditions such as depression, posttraumatic stress, and chronic pain may lead to thoughts of suicide. There are effective treatments and resources for each of these conditions.

What are the warning signs of suicide?

There are different types of warning signs you may see in yourself or another person who may be in crisis. All warning signs require attention, and some require immediate action. Some people will make jokes about suicide when they are having suicidal thoughts. Others may even appear calmer or happier than usual because they have decided to attempt suicide and feel relief at making a decision. Not everyone who makes a suicide attempt shows warning signs. However, warning signs of suicide should always be taken seriously, even if the person seems to be joking.

“I know a lot of people think about suicide. I know I have. But committing suicide is the exception, and you need to ask for help.”

If you recognize any of the following signs of suicide in yourself or others, you should reach out for support:

The following warning signs require immediate attention:

  • Making a plan for how or when to attempt suicide
  • Frequently talking, writing, or drawing about death or about items that can cause physical harm
  • Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities without thinking about the consequences
  • Behaving violently such as punching holes in walls, getting into fights, or engaging in acts of self-harm
  • Feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge
  • Acting as though you have a “death wish”; tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving fast or running red lights
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Putting your affairs in order, tying up loose ends, and/or making out a will
  • Seeking access to firearms, pills, or other means of harming yourself

It is important to get help right away if you notice any of the signs above. Getting support can help you see that solutions to your problems exist and that suicide is not the answer.

What is the treatment for suicidal thoughts and behavior?

No matter the problem you are dealing with, there is support available, and there are things you can do to solve it. Veterans of all ages and eras have sought help for suicidal thoughts and behavior and are living better lives today. You can hear stories from fellow Veterans and Service members about their own battles with suicidal thoughts and behavior and how they overcame them.

Treatments to cope with suicidal thoughts and behaviors can involve counseling, medication, or a combination of these. Counseling can help you see new solutions and perspectives that may not have occurred to you, and give you better ways of coping. Medications affect the chemicals in your brain that may be contributing to your feeling down and thoughts of suicide.

“I thought, ‘What’s the purpose of me living?’ I really didn’t want to be here anymore. But what saved me was finding this great therapist at the VA after I admitted myself into the hospital. That was the first time that I was able to open up about what I had been through.”

In addition to treatment, you can adjust your lifestyle to help prevent or deal with suicidal thoughts. Be sure to take time to:

  • Set reasonable goals for yourself.
  • Cut back on obligations if you are overworked.
  • Spend time with family, friends, or other Veterans to avoid feeling isolated.
  • Exercise and get enough sleep.
  • Slow down, using relaxation techniques such as meditation or deep breathing.

What can I do to cope with suicidal thoughts and behaviors?

If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or wish you were dead, you should talk to someone right away. Your family and friends may already know that you’re having a tough time. You may want to turn to them and let them know what you’re feeling and thinking.

You can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, use the Veterans Crisis Line online chat, or send a text message to the Veterans Crisis Line at 838255. The Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

You can also take a confidential self-check quiz to better understand what you’re going through, learn if it may be a good idea to seek professional help, and see how you might benefit from VA or community-based services. Your anonymous answers to a brief list of questions will be reviewed by an experienced counselor who will then send you a personal response to a secure website. The counselor will also provide you with resources and options for further follow-up.

Take the next step: Make the connection.

Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with proven resources and effective treatments for suicidal thoughts and behavior. You shouldn’t try to handle suicidal thoughts and behavior on your own, so talking to your family and friends can be a first step. You can also connect with:

  • The Veterans Crisis Line. Call at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, use the Veterans Crisis Line online chat, or send a text message to the Veterans Crisis Line at 838255. These services are free and confidential, and you do not have to be enrolled in VA to use them.
  • Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to manage suicidal thoughts and behaviors even without direct experience with Veterans.
  • A mental health professional, such as a therapist
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans.
  • A spiritual or religious adviser

Explore these resources for more information about signs of suicide in Veterans.

Learn more about what you can do if you are experiencing specific concerns related to suicide, such as depression, bipolar disorder, stress, or posttraumatic stress.

Veterans Crisis Line
This website connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring VA responders through a confidential toll-free hotline and online chat, regardless of enrollment in VA care. If you are thinking about death or suicide, call the Veterans Crisis Line now at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, use the Veterans Crisis Line online chat, or send a text message to the Veterans Crisis Line at 838255. The Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential support, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

VA Suicide Prevention Website
This website provides suicide prevention resources and information for Veterans and their friends and families.

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran, you can bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist — many of whom are Veterans themselves — for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.