Suicide warning signs for loved ones, especially those in the military

Keep an eye on these warning signs if you think your loved one is at risk.

Frightening statistics on the rate of suicide among military personnel highlight the need for better screening and prevention of psychiatric disorders in enlisted men and women. According to new research from JAMA Psychiatry, roughly one in four active-duty soldiers who haven’t been deployed to combat have some type of diagnosable mental condition, and one in three who have made a suicide attempt had a pre-existing psychiatric disorder.

There are certain risk factors that may increase a person’s chance for attempting or committing suicide.  A person with another psychiatric disorder, including depression, bipolar disorder, alcohol or substance abuse, borderline or antisocial personality disorder, anxiety and impulsive anger or “intermittent explosive anger,” may have an increased risk of suicide.  In addition, a personal history of previous suicide attempt or a family history of depression and suicide also increases a person’s risk.

The good news is that by knowing the risk factors and warning signs for suicide, the risk can be significantly minimized.  Enlisted men and women are under tremendous stress, so it’s very important for loved ones to understand and spot these signs.  Knowing when and how to direct someone to get help can save a person’s life.

Here is a list of red flags:
• Clinical depression with signs of depressed mood, loss of interest, change in eating or sleeping patterns and withdrawal from social activities that seem to persist and/or get worse.
• Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness or worthlessness
• Preoccupation with death
• Reckless behavior
• Failure to take care of self
• Increase in substance use
• Talking about suicide or threatening suicide
• Putting affairs in order (i.e. changing a will)

Suicide is preventable.  But all too often, loved ones feel afraid and confused.  Some worry that bringing it up may actually trigger an attempt, others aren’t sure whether to take the threat seriously.  Studies show that taking action is always the best choice.  Asking someone about their thoughts and feelings will not hurt the situation, it may actually help significantly.

It’s important to keep in mind that you are not alone when helping someone you love.  There are many resources available for diagnosing and treating a loved one in crisis. If you spot these signs in a loved one, get help.  Reach out to a professional, local health organization or hospital.  It can save a life!

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is a free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Jennifer Wider, M.D., is a nationally renowned women’s health expert, author and radio host. Her work has appeared in The NY Times, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, SELF, SHAPE, Glamour and Cosmopolitan magazines. Dr. Wider is a medical adviser to Cosmopolitan magazine and hosts a weekly radio segment on Sirius XM Stars called “Am I Normal?”  For more information go to