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When someone we know takes their own life it can come as a shock. They seemed OK. They were having troubles adjusting to civilian life but now seemed to be on track. We thought he (or she) was getting help. What happened? Although many are taken by surprise by the news of another veteran ending their own life, the act of suicide may have been spontaneous or impulsive or it may have been planned for quite some time. This is an important question if we want to reduce and eliminate veteran suicide as we do at No Fallen Heroes. Is veteran suicide planned or spontaneous?

Changing Professional Opinion about Suicide as an Impulsive Act

For years it has been commonly believed by the professional community that when someone attempts to commit suicide that the act is impulsive and driven by immediate concerns and stresses even though the immediate drivers of suicide attempts are fueled by longstanding issues. Research done by scientists at the University of Southern Mississippi have put this opinion to the test and found that it is not really true. An important aspect of this work is that if impulsiveness is the issue, then finding the means to deal with people who are, by nature, impulsive as well as at risk for suicide is very important. If impulsiveness is not a major issue, then the solution needs to be sought elsewhere.

Changing Professional Opinion about Suicide as an Impulsive Act
Changing Professional Opinion about Suicide as an Impulsive Act

Research into Impulsive or Spontaneous Suicide

The work done by the researchers consisted of a careful review of all available studies relating to suicide. Their meta-analysis of available data indicated that while there is a statistically significant link between native impulsivity and suicide the correlation is quite low. In other words, it would seem that contrary to long-held opinion, impulsivity is not a major reason for suicide in veterans or anyone else. The researchers noted that because of a person’s natural tendency to avoid harming themselves one generally has to “work up” to the point of causing harm or pain to themselves. That would argue for suicide not being a spur of the moment decision.

Why Is There Any Link Between Suicide and Impulse?

The researchers continued their work to answer why it is that impulsiveness or spontaneity play any role in suicide. They investigated unsuccessful suicide attempts. What they found was a direct relationship between how long a person thought about ending their life and how lethal their attempt was. Although suicide attempts were highly related to spontaneity and impulsiveness, lethal attempts involved planning and forethought. What correlates to planning and more lethal suicide attempts is a history of nearness to risk of death and injury. This, the researchers say, may help explain the higher rates of suicides in military veterans and police than in the population at large. The researchers speculate that impulsive people may have either harmed themselves or flirted with harm so many times in their lives that they have desensitized themselves to fear of death from their actions. If this is the case, it would help explain the small relationship that exists between impulsivity and suicide.

Capacity for Doing Harm to Oneself Outweighs Spontaneous Suicide

The conclusion of researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi is that suicide is most commonly the product of long thought and thoughtful planning. It is the product of having the means to end one’s own life (such as with drugs or firearms) and the ability to use them. Substance abuse is common among veterans and ranks high as a known risk factor as does having firearms. Military veterans are both skillful in the use of firearms and desensitized to the use and results of firearms. Thus, both are these areas are important to consider when considering how to reduce and incidence of suicide and eventually eliminate it.

Capacity for Doing Harm to Oneself Outweighs Spontaneous Suicide
Capacity for Doing Harm to Oneself Outweighs Spontaneous Suicide

Root Causes of Veteran Suicide

The vast majority of gun owners do not commit suicide. The vast majority of folks who like a beer or glass of wine or enjoy marijuana on occasion do not commit suicide. While the research into impulsivity and suicide is important, dealing with the root causes is over overwhelming importance. The finding that psychedelic medicines are effective in treating depression and PTSD is on example of how dealing with root causes eliminates the issues of spontaneous or planned suicide because the veteran can live a normal life and never have to deal with the issues that drive them to the brink.

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