Veterans, whether they've recently left the military or served decades ago, have unique experiences and needs as they adjust to civilian life. They may struggle with challenges related to their service or face common stressors like physical or mental health challenges.
According to data recently released from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Veterans die by suicide at higher rates than their non-Veteran peers. Among women Veterans, there were 350 suicide deaths in 2021 and the age-adjusted suicide rate increased 24.1% compared the previous year. The unfortunate rise in these numbers draws important attention to the experience of women Veterans.
Our “Don’t Wait. Reach Out.” campaign, in partnership with the VA, aims to encourage Veterans who may be struggling to reach out for help before their problems become overwhelming. We direct Veterans to VA.gov/REACH, where they can explore resources from across the full breadth of VA’s offerings through a custom search tool. We seek to connect with all Veterans, and in order to do so effectively, we have developed dedicated efforts for key audiences, including women Veterans.
While the focus is often on men who serve, there are now over 2 million women Veterans in the U.S., making up 10% of the Veteran population and the fastest-growing segment of Veterans.
Women face unique challenges both within the military and when transitioning back to civilian life. Whether due to their own experiences, public perceptions, or both, some women may not strongly identify as a Veteran after their service and therefore may not feel as connected to Veteran communities and Veteran-specific resources.
In an effort to connect with women Veterans, the campaign developed creative designed specifically for women. The latest women-focused PSA features three women Veterans reflecting on the difficulties they’ve experienced in asking for support and critical connections that can come from doing so.
Informed by extensive research with Veterans, this and other PSAs were inspired by the insight that Veterans—women included—are often the first to help others, but it can sometimes be tougher for them to ask for help or accept it for themselves. In the videos, we pose the simple question: “When was the last time you asked for help?”
As one of the Veterans reflects, “It’s just a beautiful space when someone can trust you and say, ‘Listen, I need help.’”
“The Question” PSA, developed pro bono by advertising agency GSD&M and directed by Academy Award–winning film director and screenwriter Kathryn Bigelow, is part of a comprehensive suite of creative that launched in September to coincide with Suicide Prevention Month.
The PSA builds on the campaign’s previous work for women, including its first women-focused PSA created in 2022. This film, which also features a cast of Veterans, was directed by U.S. Army Veteran and filmmaker Rebecca Murga.
For our campaign to connect with and encourage women Veterans to seek help when needed, it’s imperative that women can see themselves and their unique lived experiences in our work. While there’s a long way to go, we’ve already started to see the impact of having dedicated work for this audience.
Since the first PSA launched in 2022, awareness of the campaign has more than doubled among women Veterans, from 17% in April 2022 to 42% in October 2023. And significantly more women Veterans now report taking action to reach out for help or resources—from 53% in April 2022 to 61% in October 2023. The increase in awareness and action shows the impact that can be made by reaching your audience authentically, in ways that center their experience and resonate with them.
The “Don’t Wait. Reach Out.” campaign is part of VA’s 10-year strategy to end Veteran suicide through a comprehensive, public health approach, combining community prevention and clinical intervention strategies. The campaign is also part of the larger Ad Council Mental Health Initiative, a multi-year effort to change social norms and create a society that is more open, accepting and proactive when it comes to mental health.
As the campaign continues its outreach to all Veterans, we look forward to further supporting the needs of women and other specific communities within the broad Veteran population. Ultimately, we hope all Veterans can recognize the breadth of resources they’ve earned, the support that is available to them, and the hope that can come from reaching out for help.