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Mental health is just one factor in a Veteran’s risk for suicide

May is Mental Health Month and this means you may be seeing TV reports, articles and social media posts linking poor mental health to an increased risk for suicide.

While it’s important to have conversations about mental health, mental health diagnoses are only involved with about half of those who die from suicide. So, even though mental health can be a factor when it comes to suicide risk, it doesn’t paint the full picture.

There are often multiple factors—spanning physical and mental health—involved in suicide risk. These are called risk factors, and you might be surprised to learn financial, housing, relationship and legal issues can play a role as well as lack of community support, insufficient access to health care resources and moral injury. These risks are sometimes fluid and can change over time, both in occurrence and intensity.

It’s essential to remember, however, that just because you or a Veteran loved one are facing challenges doesn’t mean suicide is inevitable. There are things you can do to manage risk factors and VA has resources to help bolster factors to lower your risk.

Understanding risk and protective factors for suicide

There’s no single cause of suicide. It’s the result of a complex interaction of risk and protective factors at the individual, community and societal levels.

Risk factors are associated with an increased likelihood of suicide-related behaviors and can include:

Prior suicide attempt history.

Certain mental health conditions.

Access to lethal means like guns or certain medications.

Stressful life events, such as divorce, job loss or the death of a loved one.

Protective factors can help offset those risk factors and are characteristics associated with a decreased likelihood of suicidal behaviors. They include:

Access to mental health care.

Feeling connected to other people.

Positive coping skills.

Veterans also have unique characteristics and experiences related to their military service that may increase their suicide risk or protect them against it:

Veteran risk factors: transition-related challenges, posttraumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and experience with guns.

Veteran protective factors: resilience, a sense of belonging and purpose through military service, access to VA mental health care and care for substance use disorders, and positive coping skills learned in high-stress settings.

How to balance risk and protective factors

Now that you know more about risk and protective factors, what’s the next step? Working on deceasing risk factors and increasing protective factors.

Figuring out where to start can seem overwhelming. But you don’t have to go through it alone. VA has a range of resources and a network of support for all Veterans, including those who don’t and may never seek care within the VA health care system. 

Whether you need emergency medical careemployment assistance, or housing or financial-related services, or you’re looking for information for women VeteransLGBTQ+ Veterans or Veteran caregivers, we have resources tailored to you.

You can turn to VA for almost anything, including evidence-based treatments for:Substance abuseInsomniaDepressionPosttraumatic stress disorderAnxiety

Couple’s therapy

Parenting resources

Safety resources

Understanding suicide loss

National Veterans Financial Resource Center (FINVET)

Don’t wait. Reach out. is another good place for Veterans to find support for issues like educational challenges, experiencing grief or loss, feelings of isolation, health challenges, life transitions, living with a disability, and relationship challenges.

If you’re a Veteran in crisis or concerned about one, contact the Veterans Crisis Line to receive 24/7 confidential support. You don’t have to be enrolled in VA benefits or health care to connect. To reach responders, Dial 988 then Press 1, chat online at, or text 838255.  

Pay attention to your overall well-being

Your whole health—not just mental health or just physical health—is crucial. Reach out for support if you need it. No matter what you’re facing, help is available, and hope is possible.

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