Suicide Facts for Primary Care Providers
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Suicide of our military service members is the highest on record, rising for a fourth straight year and surpassing the suicide rate in the general population. In the Army, about one third of suicides occur during deployment and one third occur post deployment.
Despite stepped up efforts for mental health prevention and outreach, a military culture that values strength and resilience presents multiple barriers to care. Service members and families are reluctant to seek mental health services due to “not wanting to let anyone down,” shame, guilt and feeling stigmatized by one’s coworkers and loved ones, and fear of job loss. Furthermore, frequent military moves can disrupt and impede patient-doctor relationships that enable a physician to know a patient’s history and more easily detect changes in his/her physical or mental status and behavior.
Primary care, however, is where patients often present physical and emotional issues that signal distress. Studies indicate that many who commit suicide have seen a health care provider within the month prior to their death. Military spouses, often the first to notice changes in their returning service member, may share information about their service member and seek knowledge about mental health issues including suicidal behavior from their primary care provider.
Educating military families about mental health and the need for care for depression and stress can assist in help seeking and the care of service members. In this Courage to Care, we provide warning signs and risk factors associated with suicidality.