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Military veterans have a higher risk of committing suicide than non-veterans. And veterans who live alone have a higher suicide risk than those who live with a partner. Loneliness and suicide risk in veterans is a significant issue. What are the factors that feed into this problem? Living alone is not a singular cause of committing suicide but rather an issue that aggravates preexisting tendencies. Sadly, too many at risk veterans experience loneliness and social isolation at times when they have left the comradeship of their situation in the military and when they most need social support.

Suicide Risk Factors

Factors that increase the risk of suicide can be broken down into individual issues, relationship issues, community factors, and issues within society. People who struggle with depression, PTSD, other mental heath issues, and painful chronic physical conditions are at a higher risk of suicide. Add to this factor problems with the legal system, trouble getting and keeping a job, substance abuse, a sense of hopelessness, and a previous suicide attempt and the person is a significant risk to commit suicide. Unfortunately, all of this situations are generally seen at higher levels within veterans and especially recently discharged veterans than within the general, non-veteran population.

Suicide Risk Factors
Suicide Risk Factors

In regard to loneliness and social isolation, simply living alone instead of with friends, partners, or family increases the risk of suicide in those who are already vulnerable. Loss of relationships is unfortunately common in the period immediately following military discharge as are conflicts in relationships. Community issues and attitudes often make things worse when a veteran lacks access to adequate health care services, is at risk of violence in the community, and is having problems reintegrating into the community.

Loneliness, Living Alone, and Lack of Emotional Support as Suicide Predictors

A research study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders discusses how living alone and loneliness combine with lack of emotional support in contributing to a higher rate of suicide. The researchers found that loneliness contributed to a higher rate of suicide in men already prone to suicide and that, for men, living with a partner reduces the risk of death by suicide. Loneliness is also found to increase the risk of hospitalization due to attempts at self-harm for both men and women.

The researchers explain at length their methodology in investigating data relating to half a million people. This includes the statistical tools used to validate their findings.

Loneliness, Living Alone, and Lack of Emotional Support as Suicide Predictors
Loneliness, Living Alone, and Lack of Emotional Support as Suicide Predictors

Risks of Not Sharing a Life and Thoughts

While reviewing the research report for this article this author was reminded of a comment made by a friend. This friend had gone through extremely difficult times and was helped by sharing his issues in a self-help group for addicts. His comment was this. “Your mind is like the South Side of Chicago. It is a dangerous place to spend too much time alone.”

Suicidal thinking precedes a suicide attempt. Suicidal thinking does not arise in its complete form the moment a person thinks of suicide. Rather a person revisits those thoughts over time and when a person has no one else to talk to, do things with, and confide in they will tend to dwell on their misery. They will be more likely to feel depressed and start planning for ways to end their internal suffering.

This same person will not get the sort of help that they need because very often no one is watching and nobody cares about them, despite how much others may say they did after the fact. The most difficult time for relationships for veterans seems to be the months to first years after discharge when they and their significant others are going through much of the same set of difficulties together. This is when a veteran most needs support and when it all too commonly goes away with their significant other.

This situation is compounded when the veteran seeks companionship in a bottle of booze or some other drug of choice. One of the highest suicide risks in the civilian world is middle-aged men who get divorced, feel depresses, and treat their depression with alcohol. The same dynamic applies to service veterans who descend from a meaningful, busy life in the military to solitude and loneliness in the civilian world.

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