KANSAS CITY, Mo. — September is Suicide Prevention Month, and one of the groups most at risk for suicide is military members and veterans.
In the past 20 years, an estimated 30,177 active duty service members or veterans have died by suicide. That's nearly four times the amount who have died in combat, according to a study by Brown University.
Veterans have faced a lot of potential triggers lately, from the chaos in Afghanistan to the 20th anniversary of 9/11, to the continued isolation caused by the pandemic.
In these challenging times, a Kansas City-based organization called Team Fidelis is working to spread the word about its resources to help prevent military suicides.
Jason Rudolph first found Team Fidelis a few years ago, more than two decades after he left the Army.
He had deployed to several countries, but he said it's his time in Somalia that haunts him the most.
"In a combat situation, I mean, you're trying to make sure that you come home," he said. "So there are things that you will see and you have to do to make sure that you come home."
His mental health reached a breaking point in 2019.
"I went to a dark place, not wanting to live or anything like that," he said. "And I almost committed suicide."
That's where Team Fidelis came in.
Rudolph said Daniel Brazzell, executive director of Team Fidelis, immediately came to his rescue, talking to him and introducing him to additional resources for help.
Brazzell has his own history of mental health challenges. After 10 years in the Marine Corps, he was medically discharged for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Years later, he wanted to help fellow veterans find ways to cope. That's when he helped form Team Fidelis.
"The biggest thing that helped me was helping other veterans," Brazzell said.
Through outreach events, Team Fidelis helps veterans find a sense of belonging.
"We need to get veterans back engaged in the community, they need to get out, we need to get them out of isolation," Brazzell said. "We need to get them connected to each other and kind of being able to heal each other."
Rudolph now works as a Veteran Navigator for the organization, helping fellow vets learn about the resources available to them.
He also hopes to encourage more veterans to talk about their emotions and find a way to release the shame, fear, or guilt that they may be feeling.
"You cannot bottle it up. That's the biggest thing, you cannot leave it bottled up," he said. "And it took me years upon years to learn that."
It's important to know the warning signs of suicide:
- Isolation - someone considering suicide may withdraw from family and friends.
- Change in habits
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Extreme mood swings
If family or friends notice these behaviors, take action:
- Don't leave the person alone
- Ask them if they're OK or need help
- Let them share what they're comfortable sharing, but don't pressure them to share more
- If they have a firearm in the house, offer to hold onto it until they're feeling better
- Encourage them to seek professional help
- Help them find a community of other veterans to talk to
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Team Fidelis can be reached at 816-301-4140 or through its website.
The Team Fidelis website also has an extensive list of resources for veterans, including assistance for physical and mental health, housing and legal aid.