Soldier Suicide and Suicide Contagion – Let’s Stop This

Both of these can start with “you may or may not heard of” soldier suicide, veteran suicide, or the Nexflix show “13 Reasons”, but let’s talk about them here and how we need to stop soldier suicide, stop veteran suicide and stop feeding our fascination with shows like that targeting youth and the great population.

In the context of suicide contagion, here’s the basics of the psychiatry of it all from a trusted source: Pysch Central’s recent article by  John M. Grohol, Psy.D. so that we define what suicide contagion means:

The theory of ‘suicide contagion’ remains controversial among researchers – not just in terms of soldier suicide or veteran suicide – with mixed proof from the scientific research. As Randall et al. (2015) put it:

One particular area of sustained controversy has been whether the occurrence of suicide clusters indicates the existence of ‘suicide contagion’ (Davidson & Gould, 1989; Gould et al., 1994; Joiner, 2003, 1999; McKenzie et al., 2005; Robbins & Conroy, 1983; Wasserman, 1984). The existence of a causal effect from exposure to suicidal peers is contentious (Joiner, 2003).

So the basic question is: Is suicide contagious?  That what suicide contagion says. My short answer is yes. Any time something becomes more familiar to us it’s easer to understand and rationalize. Once Rock Hudson and Magic Johnson came out as having HIV, the rest of us quickly learned more about it and there was a great stigma removed from it. That’s just my opinion.

Just how connected are we, without the internet, to the reality of suicide. Here’s an excerpt from Grohol’s article:

Andriessen et al. (2017) found that 1 in 20 people in any given year know someone in their social network who has died by suicide — and 1 in 5 during an entire person’s lifetime. That means that a significant minority of people will know someone who actually died by suicide. But most of us, myself included, live to talk about losing someone to suicide with others.

And this is without any internet access, this is good old-fashioned hear it from a friend who heard it from a friend. In today’s connected age with Facebook and Snapchat, there has actually been live suicides. Outrageous.

What does this say for the recent contagion theory regarding soldier suicide and veteran suicide? I think in one way it validates it and in another it doesn’t do anything. Is a veteran more likely to commit suicide because one of his kind did? I can’t answer that because it’s so personal. My guess is maybe. There a case to be made for the first follower, but we’re way past that stage.  BTW, if you haven’t seen the linked video of this guy dancing, you should do yourself a favor. More than a leadership lesson, as it’s like to have been painted, but more on people know a good thing when they see it.

I’ve made the case that soldier suicide and veteran suicide are personal choices, and for me, it comes down to more than the individual. It comes down to what we all are doing with those close to us. And by close I mean not just loved ones. I mean those people we see everyday, especially veterans. Here’s the final word from Grohol’s article, and I couldn’t have said it much better, as he can’t either it seems:

And to help prevent suicide? We can do so much more in our own social networks, by keeping in touch with other people’s real feelings. I know, these feelings can often be hard to get to. It’s not easy asking about another’s emotional health. But your concern may be something that a person drowning in suicidal thoughts can latch onto, giving them some hope for the future.

As Roberts wrote, “We, as a society, need to slow down and pay more attention to those around us. We need to listen and not discount what people share with us.”

That’s a tall order in today’s world, the slow down part, but what’s the worst that can happen?

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Jamie Brunette

Veteran suicide comes from all parts of the military. Learn more about how to stop it, PTSD therapies and more. Send us an email at team@onceasoldier.org.