PTSD in Veterans: What to Do If You Have Suicidal Thoughts

“It is absolutely urgent that [you] seek professional help and treatment.”

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Having a mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a major risk factor for suicide and self-harm. This puts veterans at an increased risk since many struggle with PTSD after service.

However, veterans struggling with suicidal thoughts should not feel hopeless. There are many protective factors that can help prevent suicide and help someone feel better, including a sense of connectedness, access to treatment, and support from loved ones.

The first thing to do is tell someone. “If an individual's having suicidal thoughts, and they have a suicide plan, it is absolutely urgent that they seek professional help and treatment,” says Collin Reiff, MD, psychiatrist at NYU Langone Health.

Understanding Suicide Ideation

“When life is low … it's easy to feel hopeless, it's easy to feel like things are never going to get better, and that is a negative cognition,” says Dr. Reiff.

Negative cognitions are thoughts that worsen self-esteem, increase pessimism, or fuel anxiety or depression. They’re common in people with mental illnesses, such as PTSD.

The negative cognition around suicidal thoughts may revolve around beliefs that things are bad—and will always be bad. In reality, life tends to have natural ups and downs. Recognizing and embracing those peaks and valleys may help you be more persistent and hopeful during the low times.

“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” says Dr. Reiff. “Hold off, get treatment, and reevaluate, because once you end your life, that's it, as far as we know.”

Getting Help

If suicidal thoughts are plaguing you, one of the best ways to get help is by talking to someone. Even if you’re not ready to talk to a professional, you could open up to someone you trust. Talking about mental illness and suicidal thoughts can be really challenging, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. Take the first step.

“Reach out to a family member, reach out to a friend, reach out to a fellow veteran,” says Dr. Reiff. “Call a crisis line. Call 911 and go to the emergency room. Get engaged in treatment. Do not remain isolated if you are suicidal.”

Additionally, getting treatment for PTSD and other mental illnesses may help alleviate suicidal thoughts. Learn more about treating PTSD in veterans here.

“You will get better in time. You may not recognize that at the moment, but patients do get better. Veterans do get better,” says Dr. Reiff.