Veteran Suicide Calls Rise Since Fall of Kabul

On August 16, 2021 the day after Kabul was taken over by the Taliban, the Veterans Crisis Line received nearly a 12 percent increase in calls when compared to the volume of calls on the same day last year. The Veterans Crisis Line is a national suicide prevention lifeline run by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

It is evident that the mental health impact of the Taliban’s takeover has “weighed heavily” on veterans who may be having suicidal thoughts, the Veterans Crisis Line reported.

A similar phenomenon occurred in the UK according to reports by the BBC. Combat Stress, a mental health provider for British veterans, saw calls to its helpline more than double after the fall of Kabul.

Headlines and images from Afghanistan can trigger PTSD symptoms, notes Bruce Kagan, MD, PhD, a staff psychiatrist with the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. In turn, PTSD can increase the risk of death by suicide.

Dr. Kagan also leads an outpatient PTSD clinic at the VA hospital. Developments in Afghanistan have been “triggers,” which Dr. Kagan defines as “traumatic reminders,” for many group members. Mental Health Professionals encourage their patients to limit news consumption, particularly TV news that could contain triggering sounds or images. The VA offers several apps to help veterans deal with PTSD. Checking in with a primary care provider is a good place to start, says Dr. Kagan.

It’s important to recognize that PTSD and other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, are brain disorders, not personal shortcomings or character deficiencies. It is equally essential to understand that it is not just veterans who may become triggered by the news coming out of Afghanistan. Civilians who have experienced violence and have not been diagnosed with PTSD are also prone to symptom exacerbation. All survivors of trauma are encouraged to seek help.

Links to some apps can be found below.

https://www.va.gov/minneapolis-health-care/stories/letter-from-the-director-about-afghanistan/

https://veterans.ucla.edu/about/partnership-with-the-va

https://www.ptsd.va.gov/appvid/mobile/