A hopeful sign in the fight to eliminate veteran suicides is the emergence of psychedelic medicines to treat major depression, PTSD, and substance abuse disorders. All of these are important risk factors for suicide and by successfully treating these conditions suicides become less likely. But can psychedelics eliminate suicide risk or is there more work to do?
The Role of Psychedelic Medicines in Reducing Suicide Risk
Psychedelics that have been used recreationally to the extent that they were declared dangerous drugs have not become an exciting new treatment for conditions like major depression and PTSD. There is even work being done to help people with alcoholism and drug abuse problems using psychedelics. These medicines show so much promise that the United States Food and Drug Administration has labeled MDMA and psilocybin as breakthrough therapies of these conditions. Although neither is available right now by prescription or for regular use, both are undergoing fast-tracked clinical trials which have shown impressive results. That point is that depression, PTSD, and drug/alcohol abuse increase the risk of suicide and by successfully treating these conditions we expect to fewer suicides. This brings us back the question. Can psychedelics eliminate suicide risk?
Individual Suicide Risk Factors
One of the important things in trying to prevent suicide is understanding the kinds of things or conditions that make suicide more likely. These are the risk factors for suicide. These include a previous suicide attempt, a history of depression and other mental illnesses, serious illness such as chronic pain, criminal or legal problems, job or financial problems or loss, impulsive or aggressive tendencies, substance use, a sense of hopelessness, exposure to violence or acting violently, and history of victimization. While being treated with psychedelics and coaching will not bring back a lost job it may serve to reduce the depression and hopelessness that result and make the person more likely to end their life. The same applies to issues like childhood bullying, exposure to extreme violence, or chronic pain from a service-connected injury.
Relationship Risk Factors
Suicide is more likely if a person has been bullied, had a family member commit suicide, lost an important relationship, or is socially isolated. Again treatment with psychedelics will not bring back a spouse who picked up and left or bring back a loved one who ended their life. But, to the extent that the person becomes depressed, takes to drink or drugs, or experiences post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of relationship issues, psychedelics have been shown to be very effective in treating these conditions which, in turn, holds promise for eliminating suicide.
Community Risk Factors for Suicide
Factors in a community that have been related to increased suicide risk include poor heath care or lack of access to health care, violence, suicide as a recurring problem in the community, situations where becoming part of the community is difficult, a high level of discrimination, and difficulty getting to be part of social groups. Like with the other factors, psychedelics cannot bring a clinic into a community or staff it with competent professionals, make people more welcoming, or provide jobs and housing. But, they can help treat the fallout of these conditions which include depression, taking to drink, or even stress-activated PTSD.
The Bottom Line for Preventing Suicide
There are lots of things that individuals and society can do to reduce the risk of and then eliminate veteran suicides and suicides in the wider community. No matter how effective psychedelics are, they need to be available where needed. No matter how good these treatments are individuals in need of treatment need to be directed to get therapy and need to receive sufficient support to avoid stigmatization and isolation. On a governmental level, things as simple as writing to a member of congress and voicing your concern that helpful medicines like psilocybin and MDMA continue to receive the support they deserve as they are developed are useful things to do.
At No Fallen Heroes we are dedicated to the elimination of veteran suicide and all suicides. We are especially excited about the promise of psychedelics but are mindful of the magnitude of the task of eliminating veteran suicide and how attending to all of the aspects of this problem is important.