By Jetta Hanson M.A., Military Suicide Research Consortium/ VISN 19 MIRECC
Unfortunately, in the last decade Americans have seen an increase in suicide among their armed forces. The beginning of the war in the the Middle East, in 2001, marked an increase in suicide rates among military personnel (Jakupack et al., 2009; Jakupack et al., 2010). From 2005 to 2009, more than 1,100 service men and women died by suicide (DoD Task Force, 2010). A link between deployment to a war zone and increased suicide risk was reported by the Institute of Medicine in 2008. Also in 2008, suicides among active-duty soldiers were the highest they have been in twenty-eight years, surpassing the suicide rates among civilians (Kuehn, 2009). Regrettably, this increase has been seen across every branch of the military, with the Army and Marines experiencing the most significant increases in suicide rates (Army, 2010). To add to its complexity, suicide is not only a concern after deployment but before and during. With suicides on the rise in the military, many research studies have been conducted in an attempt to identify and combat these rising rates.
As a result of multiple research studies, numerous factors have been identified as increasing an individual’s risk for suicide. Some of the more predominant risk factors include posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use problems, depression and related psychiatric disorders (Jakupack et al., 2009; Jakupack et al., 2010). It has been found that the majority of individuals who die by suicide in the United States each year have one or more diagnosable mental disorder (Goldsmith, Pellmar, Kleinman, & Bunney, 2002). The Army’s Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, Suicide Prevention Report (2010) supported past literature reporting that PTSD and suicide are on the rise. In the last four years soldiers newly diagnosed with PTSD went from 2,931 to 10,137, concurrently the suicide rate for soldiers has risen from 4.6% to 14.1% (Army, 2010). In addition to mental health disorders, combat exposure, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and physical pain have been linked to increased risk of suicide (Bullman & Kang, 1996; Silver, Kramer, & Greenwald et al., 2001; Braden & Sullivan, 2008). While identifying risk factors many protective factors were recognized. Demographic factors that have a protective quality are marriage, education, social support, increased income and employment (Jakupack et al., 2010). The risk and preventative factors listed above are not comprehensive. Many more factors have been identified.
The military has taken the rising suicide rates very seriously. Many programs have been developed and implemented to address the problem. The Navy, Air Force, Marines and Army have each created their own suicide prevention programs. The main goal of each of these programs is to provide help and education to service members and families, in hopes of decreasing suicide within the military as a whole. On top of the prevention programs there is a great deal of research being conducted with an end goal of understanding suicide and how to prevent it.
Soldiers and families in need of crisis assistance can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained consultants are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and can be contacted by dialing 1-800-273-TALK (8255), from OCONUS using the appropriate country access code, or by visiting their website at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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President Obama to Recognize Suicides in the Military with Condolence Letter
And reaction to the condolence letter reversal: