SALT LAKE CITY — Veterans die by suicide at a rate of 1.5 times that of non-veteran adults, and in Utah, veterans die by suicide twice as often as those who never served.
These statistics are revealed in the 2020 Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report. And so the Utah Department of Health and Human Services is doing something about it.
The department has launched the first-of-its-kind suicide prevention training for service members, veterans and their families. The Live On Military Playbook is free and has the most important things a person should know to help prevent suicide and how the military culture may impact this.
Summer Anderson Thatcher, combat camera veteran, served in the U.S. Navy from 2000-08 and is one of the service members featured in the playbook.
“It’s no secret that service members are conditioned to bury their mental and emotional burdens,” Thatcher said in a press release issued by the Department of Health and Human Services. “We are taught that, in some ways, selfless service means ignoring the need for healing and service ourselves. That it’s a weakness of character to show any measure of vulnerability. But you can’t continue serving your country, even beyond military service, if you yourself are not whole.
“True courage shows when you reach out and accept help. To Live On is to, despite the darkness, forge forward. The battle, though, is not meant to be fought alone. Through lived experience, I know these resources will help veterans heal – and emerge stronger warriors than before.”
And Allison Foust, suicide prevention program administrator with the department, said in the press release that the program is an extension of the philosophy that pervades in the armed forces.
“Military service creates a tight-knit community where no soldier is left behind,” Foust said. “This idea is the basis behind the Live On Military Playbook. Taking the course is easy. Each lesson is just a few minutes, and when you’re done you’ll be better equipped to detect issues your friends or family members might be going through and offer much-needed help.”
The Live On Military Playbook includes a series of short, engaging lessons. Each lesson includes videos with service members and veterans who share their personal experiences with suicidal thoughts, and loss and supporting fellow service members through difficult times. Each lesson takes only 5-7 minutes to complete.
The Military Playbook is available on Instagram (@LiveOnUtah) and will soon be on Facebook and YouTube. A Playbook for the Spanish-speaking community, Live On Guía de Prevención del Suicidio, was launched last month, and a Live On Playbook for all Utahns last year. To date, more than 126,000 Utahns have taken one of these Playbooks.
The sun sets on the massive American flag that was unfurled at the Veterans Day tribute at Snow Canyon State Park on display until Saturday, St. George, Utah, Nov. 14, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News
“There isn’t one cause of suicide. It’s a complex interplay of risk factors and protective factors that impact every individual differently,” Gary Harter, executive director of the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs, said in the release. “The military culture has unique stressors that others may not understand or experience. Service members, veterans, and their families also have unique strengths—resilience and a strong sense of community among them—that can encourage people to seek help and support each other through difficult times,”
Risk factors for suicide and mental health challenges that are unique to the military community include frequent deployments, prolonged exposure to stress and trauma, difficulty transitioning to civilian life after deployment or service, and separation from family and friends, among others.
“More than 700 Utahns died by suicide last year,” Foust said. “There’s never been a more urgent time for everyone to learn the warning signs and how to help start these tough conversations with the people around us. Doing so can save a life.”