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Recognizing the Coded Language of Suicide – and what to do about it

Scrolling through Facebook, you see a post from someone you met at a previous duty station. He shares that he’s going through a divorce and a few comments stand out to you: “I mess everything up. People would be better off without me.”

His post concerns you, but maybe you haven’t spoken in a while. Should you do anything? What would you say?

Today, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and veterans die by suicide at about twice the rate as non-veterans. People often express one or more warning signs before attempting suicide – but they may not explicitly mention death or use the word “suicide”. In fact, research by the University of Utah suggests that less than 10% of individuals who die by suicide explicitly post about it on social media. Still, individuals thinking about suicide may share signs of emotional distress or feelings of crisis. This could look like:

Hopelessness: “Nothing I do matters. It’s beyond my control.”

Feeling trapped: “I can’t see any way out of this mess. Life will never get better.  No one can help me solve my problems.”

Feeling like a burden: “They’d be better off without me. I’d be better off dead. I mess everything up.”

Lack of belonging: “No one cares. I don’t fit in anywhere anyway.”

Guilt: “It’s all my fault. I’m to blame. I deserve to be punished. I can never be forgiven.”

Saying goodbye or desire to escape: “I just wanted to tell everyone thank you for all you’ve done, but I can’t take this any longer.”

Feeling alone: I’m on my own. “No one cares about me.”

Posts that include discussion of the following behaviors are signs of a potential crisis and require immediate attention:

-Thinking about hurting or killing oneself

-Looking for ways to kill oneself

-Talking about death, dying, or suicide

-Self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse, weapon use, etc

No matter how casually or jokingly stated, always err on the side of caution and take any concerning language about suicide seriously.

Don’t wait to hear the word “suicide”. If you’re worried about what someone is sharing online, take action.

What should you do?

  1. Contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 – Press 1 for Veterans. This crisis line is available to veterans and their concerned friends and family members – regardless of whether there is an immediate threat of suicide or harm to others.
  2. Reach out. Reply to the post, send a private message, call or text. Let this person know that you’re concerned about them and that there are resources available to help them with whatever they’re going through, including the Veterans Crisis Line.
  3. Report the post. View recommendations for what to do if you see suicidal content on the following platforms:

-Facebook Recommendations

Reporting a post on Facebook

-Twitter Recommendations

Reporting a post on Twitter

-Instagram Recommendations

Reporting a post on Instagram

By Cohen Veterans Network