Army Reports Highest Suicide Numbers in 2011
Posted by Bryan Maxwell on May 19
The Army released suicide data for the month of April last week. Among active-duty service members, there were 16 suspected suicides, with none confirmed. Among the non-activated reserve component, there were 9 suspected suicides, with none confirmed. These numbers, the highest so far in 2011, come on the heels of a new Pentagon study that found that the rate of hospitalizations among soldiers for suicidal thoughts skyrocketed 7,000 percent in the last five years. To end the military suicide epidemic, we must understand why so many of our service members and veterans see suicide as the only option.
Right now our understanding of what drives so many of our troops and veterans to suicide remains limited. The National Institute of Mental Health and the U.S. Army are hoping to begin to bridge this gap with their ongoing study, Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service Members (Army STARRS), which is the largest effort to date that assesses mental health among service members and identifies suicide risk factors.
Several earlier studies have suggested reasons for these troubling suicide statistics. RAND recently released a study of suicide in the military, which noted that the research still isn’t available to tell us whether there is a link between the number of deployments and suicide; some researchers argue there is a link while others posit a “healthy warrior effect” – the notion, as described in the RAND study, that service members who deploy multiple times are in fact “uniquely healthy and resilient to developing mental health problems or exhibiting suicidal behaviors.” Meanwhile, another study published by the American Journal of Psychiatry found that when soldiers were screened for mental health conditions prior to a deployment, those who deployed were not as likely to have suicidal thoughts or mental health disorders. These studies offer glimpses at what might be causing this epidemic among service members and veterans, but more research is needed.
Meanwhile, the increase in the hospitalization rate raises further questions. This significant increase may be tied to greater rates of suicidal thoughts among service members, or alternatively, the Pentagon suggests, the increase may be the result of more attention to mental health and the reduction of stigma associated with seeking help. Until we understand the reasons behind the increase, we won’t know whether it is a sign that efforts to reduce stigma are working or not.
To properly fight this epidemic and reinforce efforts that are already underway, the government, the military leadership, and the American public must all work to develop a better understanding of the causes of suicide. IAVA recommends that the DoD launch a national campaign to combat the stigma of seeking help for combat stress injuries and to promote the use of VA and DoD services such as Vet Centers and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This effort must be complemented by a presidential call to action for a dramatic increase in the number of military mental health professionals.
To learn more about psychological and neurological injuries, read IAVA Issue Reports:
- Invisible Wounds: Psychological and Neurological Injuries Confront a New Generation of Veterans
- Women Warriors: Supporting She 'Who Has Borne the Battle'
OIF/OEF Veteran? Join the conversation, connect with fellow vets and explore resources for the transition home inside Community of Veterans.
Bryan Maxwell is IAVA's Research Associate in Washington, D.C. where he contributes to IAVA’s Issue Reports. Bryan received a B.A. in History from University of Virginia in 2004 and also serves as an officer in the Army Reserve.
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