Suicide Awareness Week brings conversation about veteran suicide epidemic to forefront

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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - On Sept. 11, 2001, people across the U.S. watched terror and made the brave decision to enlist. September is National Suicide Awareness Month and the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) said suicide among veterans is an epidemic.

Photo Source: Russel Midori / USMC / MGN

“Because of that day, so many of my brothers and sisters in arms decided to enlist. Some of them did not come home, some of them came home a completely different version of themselves than they were before and some of them are still suffering in silence,” said Alex Juan, a veteran who now works for the VA office in Baton Rouge.

She said on average, 20 veterans take their lives every day and 14 of them aren’t getting treatment beforehand at a VA facility.

“For those of us in the military, we were trained that we’re very mission-oriented. It’s not about you, it’s about the person standing next to you,” Juan said. “So it’s hard to ask for help for yourself."

Dr. Frank Campbell of the Baton Rouge Crisis Intervention Center spoke on suicidology to a crowd at a Rotary Club meeting on Sept. 11. Dr. Campbell said people who are exposed to trauma have a higher risk of suicide. He said there are certain warning signs to watch for.

“Changes in behavior is the most important one to note. Certainly, sleeping more, sleeping less, all the activities of daily living, isolating, withdrawing from resources,” he said. “Often they give statements like, ‘it will all be over soon,’ or ‘I’m glad I won’t be having to deal with this anymore.’ We need to listen very carefully.”

Both Juan and Dr. Campbell said loved ones who are scared to ask the tough question, should ask them.

“Everybody is worried about offending someone, but I promise you that someone that needs help is going to be incredibly grateful that somebody cared enough to ask the question, ‘Are you okay?'" said Juan.

“We should trust our gut,” Dr. Campbell said. “Our gut is almost always one of the most sensitive things in our body that says something’s still not right."

On Friday, Sept. 13, the VA will hold its second annual suicide prevention summit at American Legion Post 38 in Baton Rouge. Juan said both veterans and non-veterans are encouraged to attend and learn more.

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