As Suicide Prevention month continues, I wanted to clue you into a few vulnerable populations at greater risk of suicide than the general population. I feel particularly close to each of these groups for personal reasons. While scientists and researchers find cures for a variety of other public health crises, suicide remains on the rise for all of the US, except Nevada. I hope you’ll consider ways to help these groups if you can; I have included resources to learn more about how to donate, volunteer, and educate yourself more on the struggles each of these groups face.
Both of my grandfathers were Veterans and my uncle continues to serve our country proudly. I’ve provided psychotherapy to Veterans for the last five years, specifically Veterans experiencing homelessness. Veterans are the most loyal and service-driven group of men and women I have the pleasure of knowing and working with. Here’s the devastating statistic: Twenty-two Veterans kill themselves each day. Though it may appear Veterans have plenty of support in the way of community resources, many feel isolated and have trouble fitting in after they leave the military. The truth is, only about 7% of the American population is made up of Veterans. It makes sense that when you are the minority, it is difficult for the people around you to fully understand what you are going through. What are the challenges Veterans face today? 11-20% are diagnosed with PTSD, depending on the service era (e.g. Vietnam vs Gulf War vs Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom). In addition to combat, Veterans have higher rates of sexual trauma. Many suffer from depression and anxiety. They have higher rates of disability and are more likely to experience homelessness. Veterans carry invisible wounds of war that civilians could never know about unless we develop the courage to ask.
With so much attention focused on Veteran suicides, I was astonished when I read an article in 2017 stating farmers had suicide rates double that of Veterans. As the rural-urban divide grows, with approximately 80% of Americans calling urban and suburban areas home, it is hard to truly understand the plight of rural farmers. I have a unique perspective, my dad a fourth generation farmer and family members who continue to grow, pack, and ship. Growing up in a farming family, I saw firsthand the stress that a bad season brings, the impact it has on a marriage, the time farming takes away from family, the pressure to make ends meet. Factors outside of farmers’ control, like flooding, drought, and pests, can take a major toll on revenue. As global warming continues to wreak havoc on our planet, farmers face more adversity. Additionally, farming can be a socially isolating occupation, with many activities spent in solitude or with only your family members. Living in a remote area presents barriers to accessing mental health services; for example, growing up in rural south Texas in the 1990s, the nearest mental health professional was a 30 minute drive away. Add to this the typical stereotype of the stoic farmer, unwilling to admit there’s something wrong, plus higher access to lethal means, such as firearms and high-powered farm equipment, and we begin to paint a stark picture. States with vast rural areas, such as Montana, Alaska, and Wyoming carry the highest rates of suicide in the country.
Transgender men and women
Imagine feeling unsafe in your own community? 90% of trans people report facing prejudice and discrimination. They are shunned from their families and peer groups and harassed at churches, schools, and workplaces, finding themselves isolated and alone. They experience high rates of unemployment and homelessness, creating an immense amount of stress that most of us could never imagine. The transgender community is one of the most misunderstood groups today, with dangerous myths and completely false narratives spread about them. While there has been a light shed on the trans community recently, the truth is, trans folks have existed in cultures throughout recorded time. Transgender is a term that means a person’s gender identity is different than the sex they were assigned at birth, and research indicates there are at least 700,000 transgender people in the US (but many are justifiably scared of the risks of coming out, so this number is probably higher). Over 40% of trans folks have attempted suicide, with more than half of transgender male teens reporting an attempt. And yet, with all this adversity, transgender folks remain among the most resilient clients I have the opportunity of working with. When they connect with a loving and supportive community they thrive, and many contribute, create, make positive impacts on the community, and work for justice for all.
What can we do?
If you know a Veteran or farmer or trans man or woman personally, check in with them. Ask them how they’re doing. Invite them over for dinner. Call or text them regularly. Pay attention to changes in their mood and notice if they begin to talk about hopelessness, increased stress, or not feeling like themselves. Share your own struggles to normalize and validate their experience. Encourage them to seek professional help. Take them to appointments if you can or follow up with them afterwards to show you care.
Learn the warning signs and intervene when you see someone struggling. Websites like https://www.bethe1to.com/ and https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ are great resources. I also post mental health information @drwetegrove and on my blog. You can sign up for my weekly newsletter, too, for more information on suicide prevention and general mental health tips.
Support initiatives that provide funding and support to these groups specifically. Whether you contribute financially or volunteer your time, most organizations rely on public involvement. Organizations to consider include:
National Veterans Foundation: https://nvf.org/
The Wounded Warrior Project: https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/
Farm Aid: https://www.farmaid.org/
Human Rights Campaign: https://www.hrc.org/
The Trevor Project: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/get-involved/
*I am not affiliated with any of these organizations and their listing here does not indicate my endorsement.*
Contact your local legislators and ask what they are doing to support these communities. Suicide is a public health crisis and it’s important to know where the people who represent you stand on this issue. I know that most of us are tired of the politicizing of EVERYTHING, however, legislators ultimately decide how our tax dollars should be spent. Getting mental health treatment into the lives of those who need it and expanding suicide prevention initiatives will save lives. Speaking up for vulnerable populations is up to us. Use https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials to identify your representatives and look up their contact information. Write or call them. Attend town halls when they are in your area.
Are there other at-risk populations you’re interested in learning about? Questions about suicide prevention? Let me know in the comments below.