In wake of Kandahar, Army Reports February Suicides
Posted by Moran Banai on March 16
As the world focuses on Kandahar and tries to understand what led an American soldier to kill 16 Afghan civilians, we cannot ignore the impact 10 years of continuous warfare are having on our troops’ well-being. As a community, we are constantly learning more about suicide and mental health, and what we can do to fight this epidemic within our ranks. On Thursday, as another stark reminder, the Army reported 14 active-duty and reserve soldiers committed suicide in February. For military families, these figures are 14 too high, but it’s the lowest we’ve seen since June 2011.
A recently released study found that in 2007 and 2008, soldiers diagnosed with mental health injuries were more likely to commit suicide; soldiers who had been hospitalized for a mental health disorder were 15.5 percent more likely to commit suicide than those who had not. Meanwhile, those who received outpatient support for a mental health disorder were 3.9 percent more likely to commit suicide than those who had not. The mental health injuries most strongly associated with suicide included those connected to alcohol, forms of depression and some anxiety disorders.
The study also found that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are likely associated with the sharply increased Army suicide rate – self-evident, perhaps, but still important data. The authors found that the suicide rate was trending downward in the Army between 1977 and 2003. But between 2004 and 2008, the rate increased by 80 percent. Mental health injuries also almost doubled between 2003 and 2008. At the same time however, national suicide rates stayed relatively stable.
The authors call this growing suicide rate “the tip of the ‘mental health iceberg’,” suggesting that these numbers are indicators of much greater mental health challenges in the military. They hypothesize that things like the stress of deployment and potential deployments may have helped push the suicide rate up. The suicide numbers, the authors suggest, highlight the importance of suicide prevention strategies, including awareness and tracking and treating risk factors, to include mental health injuries.
Not all service members and veterans suffer from mental health injuries, and very few of those who do will commit suicide. But ensuring that those that need it get care is a critical strategy for fighting the suicide epidemic and healing the larger unseen iceberg of invisible wounds. It can’t be said enough—mental health injuries are treatable. Everyone in the veterans’ community needs to use this latest report as an opportunity to ensure that our service members and veterans receive care, not to further stigmatize mental health injuries.
The Veterans Crisis Line is available 24/7, by phone at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or online at http://www.veteranscrisisline.net.
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