Breaking Down the Alarming Reality: Suicide Rates in the Military
Suicide is a tragic and complex issue that affects individuals across all demographics, and the military is no exception. The increasing suicide rates within the military have raised significant concerns, prompting a need for awareness, understanding, and action. In this blog post, we will delve into the factors contributing to these elevated suicide rates, their impact on military personnel and veterans, and initiatives aimed at addressing this critical issue.
According to the Department of Defense (DoD) and various research organizations, military suicide rates have been on the rise over the past two decades. While the numbers may vary year by year, the overall trend is concerning.
Understanding the Rising Suicide Rates in the Military
Suicide rates among active-duty military members are currently at an all-time high since record-keeping began after 9/11 and have been increasing over the past five years at an alarmingly steady pace. In fact, some branches of the Armed Forces are experiencing the highest rate of suicides since before World War II.
Suicides in the active-duty military increased in the first three months of 2023 compared to the same time last year, according to a newly released Pentagon report. The Defense Suicide Prevention Office revealed in its quarterly report that the overall number of active-duty suicides 94 from January through March was up 25% compared to the number of troops 75 who took their own lives in the first three months of 2022. Data includes all known or suspected suicides (both confirmed and pending) as of March 31, 2023.
The Defense Department report states:
The Army had the greatest increase in suicide deaths, from 37 to 49.
The Marine Corps increased from eight to 14.
The Air Force had one additional suicide compared to 2022 and;
No change for the Navy or Space Force.
Demographics and Vulnerabilities
Certain demographics within the military are more susceptible to suicide than others:
Age: Younger service members are generally at a higher risk of suicide. Those under the age of 25 are particularly vulnerable.
Gender: Historically, male service members have had higher suicide rates than females. However, suicide rates among female service members have been increasing.
Branch: Suicide rates can vary among different branches of the military. The Marine Corps and Army often report higher rates compared to the Air Force and Navy.
Deployment and Combat Exposure
Multiple deployments and combat exposure can significantly increase the risk of suicide among service members.
Veterans who have been deployed to combat zones may carry the psychological burden of their experiences, leading to a higher likelihood of mental health issues and suicidal thoughts.
Mental Health and Stigma
A significant percentage of service members and veterans who die by suicide have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, such as PTSD, depression, or anxiety.
Stigma surrounding mental health issues can discourage service members from seeking help. Addressing this stigma is crucial to reducing suicide rates.
Access to Firearms
Military personnel often have easy access to firearms, which can be a lethal method of self-harm. This access can increase the risk of impulsive acts of suicide.
Military life can be isolating, particularly during deployments and relocations. Feelings of loneliness and disconnection from loved ones can exacerbate mental health issues.
Veterans account for more than 9% of all adults experiencing homelessness in the U.S., translating to more than 39,000 homeless veterans on any given day.
Among veterans experiencing homelessness, 59% are age 51 or older.
Between 2009 and 2016, there was a 54% increase in the number of veterans age 62 or older experiencing homelessness.
Individuals of color comprise 18% of the general veteran population, but account for 43% of all veterans experiencing homelessness.
When Transitioning to Civilian Life
More than 40% of veterans say they experience high levels of difficulty when transitioning. Studies show that those individuals are 5x more likely to experience suicidal ideation.
When asked if their transition experience was more difficult than expected, 48% of veterans agree. When asked if their transition experience was stressful, 76% of veterans agree.
More than 80% of post-9/11 veterans say that the public does not understand the problems those who have served face in transitioning to civilian life.
More than 80% of civilian organizations have no veteran-specific recruiting programs, and more than 50% offer no onboarding or transition support to veteran hires.
More than 45% of veterans with combat experience describe transition as difficult, compared to 18% of veterans with no combat experience.
Roughly 35% of veterans say they have trouble paying their bills in their first few years after leaving the military.
Only about half of NCOs and enlisted personnel agree when asked if the military prepared them well for the transition to civilian status.
The Impact on Service Members and Their Families
The increasing suicide rates within the military have far-reaching consequences. Each suicide represents a profound loss, affecting not only the individual but also their family, friends, and fellow service members. The emotional toll of losing comrades and dealing with the fear of losing more can contribute to a culture of stress and emotional strain within the military community.
The rising suicide rates in the military represent a grave concern that demands our collective attention and action. By understanding the underlying factors, combating mental health stigma, and providing robust support systems and resources, we can work together to mitigate the tragic impact of suicide on military personnel and veterans.
The military has implemented various prevention programs, such as resilience training, mental health awareness campaigns, and improved access to mental health services.
Increased collaboration between the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs aims to provide seamless care for service members transitioning to veteran status.
In addition to Pentagon-wide programs, each of the military services has its own suicide program designed to provide help for troubled troops. Further, the national suicide prevention hotline was streamlined last year and became available by dialing 988. Pressing “1” after calling the number takes callers to the Veterans Crisis Line. Service members and veterans can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for help.
CALL TO ACTION:
Supporting organizations and initiatives dedicated to mental health and suicide prevention in the military is essential in ensuring that those who have served our nation receive the care and support they deserve.