Suicidal Ideation in Veterans with Mesothelioma
Suicidal ideation (SI) involves a person thinking about, planning, or attempting suicide. This condition is not officially diagnosed but can be a symptom of other mental disorders like depression. One of the largest contributors to mortality in the US, suicide statistics show that women attempt it more, but men are approximately three times more successful. Data also shows about 6,139 veteran-specific suicides in 2017, about 1.5 times the rate for non-veteran adults. Adding to that, research further demonstrates that veterans with mesothelioma or other cancers are at much higher risk for suicidal ideation, especially those that also have preexisting mental health conditions.
The Correlation Between Mental Health and Suicide Rates in Veterans
Since suicide is such a prevalent issue in the United States among servicemembers, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) conducts a yearly analysis of veteran suicide rates and potential causes. This is so they can develop programs and resources to help. After analyzing several studies on veterans with cancer, the VA noticed a significant correlation between disease progression and thoughts of suicide in veterans with mental health issues. These include depression, anxiety, and PTSD among others. Results demonstrate cancers like mesothelioma as one of the most impactful triggers for SI.
Servicemembers with mesothelioma can succumb to suicidal thoughts for several reasons. Risk factors for veterans can include:
- Aggravation towards time and service in the military
- Effects of aging
- Dishonorable Discharge
- Financial crisis
- Substance abuse
- Unaddressed health conditions from military service
Surveys also show that servicemembers experience more problems with personal relationships and transitioning back to civilian status after their time in the military.
First off, when a veteran receives a mesothelioma diagnosis, it’s a shocking and intimidating time. Even patients with healthy mental states can be subject to an abrupt, emotional crisis from a cancer diagnosis.
Moreover, the compound shock of debilitating illness with old age (the disease can sometimes take over 20 years after asbestos exposure to develop), cancer symptoms, and several years of dedicated service in the military, veterans can be left feeling trapped and alone in their mesothelioma diagnosis.
Adding to that, pleural mesothelioma symptoms like chronic pain and severe respiratory issues (among others) can also cause veterans to feel overwhelmed and hopeless about their situation.
Veterans who may have thoughts of suicide don’t usually tell anyone about them. Warning signs can involve the veteran:
- Completely isolating themselves from others
- Having intense feelings of being trapped, anxiety, hopelessness, or depression
- Saying goodbye to people or discussing death and suicide
- Giving away valuables and possessions
- Substance abuse
- Mood swings (bouts of anger, sadness, or irritability)
- Seeking out risky activities like the use of illicit drugs or putting themselves in harm’s way (reckless driving)
- Attaining method of suicide. (Excess medications, drugs, or firearms)
Additionally, veterans with mesothelioma may exhibit symptoms of suicidal ideation and not actually do it. Conversely, people with recurring thoughts or feelings of suicide may also seem completely happy or unaffected on the outside, lacking obvious symptoms and risk factors.
VA Suicide Resources for Veterans Who Need or Want Support
The VA has a free, confidential crisis line dedicated to veterans that’s available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Mental health professionals answer the calls and will initiate emergency services to callers when necessary. Servicemembers have made over 4.4 million calls to the hotline since its creation. There’s also a texting service available:
Veterans Crisis Line
Phone: 800 – 273 – 8255 (option 1)
Those who want to talk with experienced counselors online can chat on: www.VeteransCrisisLine.net . Veterans don’t have to be registered or enrolled with the VA to utilize this service. The VA also provides access to 170 medical centers with full-time suicide prevention assistants.
Not every person in these scenarios will experience SI or attempt suicide. Talk to a VA or primary care physician if you notice risk factors or symptoms in yourself or a fellow veteran. They’ll be able to refer you to additional support.