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World Suicide Prevention Day: military veterans especially at risk

Annville, PA – The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) is encouraging everyone to light a candle at 8 p.m. on Sept. 10 in observance of World Suicide Prevention Day. The annual observance is organized by the International Association for Suicide Prevention.

About 47,000 people commit suicide a year in the United States, but military veterans are 1.5 times more likely to die by suicide than Americans who never served in the military. For female veterans, the risk factor is 2.2 times more likely. When looking at these statistics and factoring in that Pennsylvania serves nearly 800,000 veterans – the fourth largest veteran population in the nation – it is easy to see why the DMVA is so actively involved in suicide prevention initiatives.

“The DMVA and our dedicated partners work together every day to reduce the number of veteran suicides to zero,” said Rick Hamp, special assistant to the deputy adjutant general for Veterans Affairs. “Lighting a candle on World Suicide Prevention Day is not just a heartfelt gesture, it allows a conversation to begin and hopefully spreads an important message that we all care about those lost to suicide, survivors of suicide and those considering suicide. Anyone can help prevent veteran suicide.”

Hamp is also Pennsylvania’s team lead on the Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans and Their Families. Pennsylvania is one of 27 states taking part in the Governor’s Challenge. Participants work to implement state-wide suicide prevention best practices and learn from stakeholders nationwide.

Representing Pennsylvania and the DMVA, Hamp recently served as a presenter during the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Virtual Suicide Evaluation Conference.

To learn more about the DMVA, visit us online at www.dmva.pa.gov or follow us at www.facebook.com/padmva or www.twitter.com/padmva.

SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE, FREE TO CALL: 800-273-8255

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Harrisburg, PA – If you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, resources are available in Pennsylvania. You can talk to someone on the phone immediately, as a phone call or text, for free, to help you with these difficult emotions, which can be especially difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller reminded Pennsylvanians struggling with anxiety and other challenging emotions due to the COVID-19 emergency that they do not have to face things alone, help is available.

“We know that psychological distress – whether it stems from poverty, systemic racism, or a public health crisis – can cause trauma. And we know that trauma can create long-lasting, adverse effects on a person’s well-being and can extend across their entire life,” said Sec. Miller. “So, I want people to know that if you are experiencing stress, anxiety, or grief from what we’ve been facing – that’s ok. Those feelings are a natural reaction to the difficult circumstances we’re facing right now. But you don’t have to face them alone, and resources are available that can help you work through these feelings.”

In early April, DHS launched the Support & Referral Helpline, a free resource staffed by skilled and compassionate caseworkers available to counsel Pennsylvanians.

The helpline can be reached toll-free, 24/7 at 1-855-284-2494. For TTY, dial 724-631-5600.

The helpline is possible through partnerships with the Pennsylvania and Federal Emergency Management Agencies, and the Center for Community Resources (CCR). CCR staff are trained to be accessible, culturally competent, and skilled at assisting people with mental illness, intellectual disabilities, co-occurring disorders, or other special needs, or someone just looking for a supportive, empathetic person to listen. Staff are trained in trauma-informed care to listen, assess needs, triage calls, and provide appropriate referrals to community resources to children, teens, adults and special populations.

The helpline has received a total of 9,213 calls since April 1 and is averaging 68 calls per day.

There are also many other resources that remain available to Pennsylvanians in need of support, including:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • The Spanish-language National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-888-628-9454
  • The Mental Health Crisis Text Line: Text “PA” to 741-741
  • The Attorney General’s Safe2Say program is also still operating 24/7 and can be reached at 1-844-723-2729 or at www.safe2saypa.org.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that communities more likely to experience excessive stress include people with underlying medical conditions or disabilities, people who have lost their jobs, and racial and ethnic minorities. A recent Penn State study found that across all age groups, individuals who lost work were 64.7 percent more likely to worry about their mental health, a statistically significant increase. And new research, reported in the Guardian, found that more than half of people who received treatment for COVID-19 were found to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, insomnia, or obsessive-compulsive symptoms.

“We know that crisis does not always allow people to tune in to personal needs. But no matter what challenges you are facing, you do not have go at this alone. It’s ok to ask for help because we can and will get through this together,” said Sec. Miller. “We are committed to maintaining a strong, stable, trauma-informed mental health and substance use support system available for everyone across the commonwealth. If you find that you may need help, do not hesitate; reach out.”

More information can be found at dhs.pa.gov.