Military suicide rates increase during the holidays

Psychologist shares how to get and give help
Published: Dec. 22, 2021 at 6:59 PM CST
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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – While the holiday season is known for being a joyous time for celebration, that’s not the case for everyone.

According to the U.S. Military, service member suicide rates during the last quarter of the year increased by 25 percent from 2019 to 2020. Law enforcement psychologist Dr. Steven Norton says people in the military face unique stressors that many cannot relate to.

“Being away from home is part of that stress. Multiple deployments, I’ve talked to individuals who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan five, six, seven times that just all adds to a great deal of stress,” Dr. Norton said.

Dr. Norton lives in Rochester.

The circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic may have added or exacerbated these stressors service members experience.

“Being isolated, being at home, dealing with COVID, the restrictions in society all of that has had a fairly significant negative impact, unfortunately,” Dr. Norton said.

While suicide among military members increased all throughout 2020, the highest number of deaths occurred during the holidays proving it can be a difficult time for some

“When you’re already depressed, you’re already isolated, you see all these things around you, and that just can, unfortunately, make you feel worse because that’s not what your life experience is,” Dr. Norton said.

This can lead to many comparing their holiday feelings to others which may make depressive and suicidal feelings even stronger. One way to prevent these feelings is to avoid isolation and embrace community, and this Christmas, that’s exactly what the VFW in Rochester is doing.

“For the community, we’re community-oriented, why not open up and offer that area for people to come and congregate and just do something, reach out to the community for people in need,” VFW bartender Wesley Riley said.

For the employees who are working at the VFW on Christmas, they say they are happy to give up their time at home for the military members who have sacrificed that much more.

‘We appreciate the services they’ve done for our country and we want to continue to recognize that any way we can,” Riley said.

One way all of us can help service members during this time is to simply reach out.

“When you know someone is struggling, reach out, give them a call, say how are you doing, ask them out for coffee, just that connection sometimes can be very positive,” Dr. Norton said.

The VFW plans to be open from noon until 1 a.m. on Christmas Day this year.

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