Based on what we know (and don’t know) about military suicide, 3 overarching lessons can maximize clinicians’ ability to assist service members in crisis.
1. Remember that combat can increase vulnerability to suicide by increasing the likelihood of other, more proximal causes for suicide (eg, life stressors, emotion-regulation problems). In treating patients, clinicians should be careful not to be distracted from these proximal risk factors by overemphasizing combat exposure.
2. Remember that the military has a unique cultural context that views death and emotional distress in ways that differ from the views of civilians. Clinicians should not discourage these qualities. Rather, they should help foster and maintain a more adaptive “warrior mindset.”
3. Finally, remember that there are few effective treatments for suicidal behaviors. Mental health professionals should seek out and receive adequate training and supervision in the evidence-based treatments for suicidal behaviors and use these as front-line interventions.
By being committed to cultural competence and evidence-based practice, mental health professionals are poised to have a positive impact on the problem of military suicide.
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