The New Mexico Department of Veterans Services is letting military families know that resources are available for veterans who are having suicidal thoughts during the holidays and beyond.

“Suicide prevention is a year-round campaign,” Jemia Warner, the agency’s health care division director, said during a Facebook presentation Friday.

“This is something that has to be talked about always,” she said.

Warner and Christina Camacho, the department’s suicide prevention case manager, said they are trying to keep the community focused on a problem that has plagued veterans for years.

Not that the holiday season is one in which suicide rates go up, Warner said. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics has long reported that the suicide rate is at its lowest in December. It peaks in the spring and summer.

Still, based on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs 2020 National Suicide Prevention report, the number of veterans taking their own lives has been around 17 to 18 per day since 2005. In 2018, the most recent year covered in the report, that rate was 17.6 per day, for a total of 6,435 veterans.

Warner said the holidays can bring about feelings of anxiety, depression, hopelessness and loneliness among some veterans, especially if they are dealing with trauma.

That doesn’t mean those signs will translate into thoughts of suicide, she and Camacho said. But those feelings may “trigger” a discussion about suicide for veterans or those around them, they said.

Camacho said thoughts of suicide can suddenly become “intrusive” with little warning, catching veterans, loved ones and friends off guard. Loved ones and counselors should listen in a nonjudgmental way and ask questions that make veterans want to “voice their concerns or talk about these triggers,” she said.

Warner said there is still stigma around talking about suicide. Many fear the discussion itself will lead to someone taking their life.

“We have to break down that stigma,” she said, by allowing veterans the freedom and comfort to talk about what is traumatizing them.

“It’s not always easy,” she said.

Camacho said simple acts such as stretching, breathing and drinking water (dehydration often accelerates stress levels) can help calm someone in a moment of crisis.

“Somebody’s always there to listen. Somebody’s always there to help,” Warner said.

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

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