Protecting Our Protectors

December 28th, 2015 | Posted by admin in Uncategorized

As we prepare to ring in a new year, it's more important than ever to think about the past. It is only through contemplation and careful consideration that we can grow as a country and as a people. How we can improve ourselves and our world to help create a better future?

One of the most serious issues facing the nation right now is one of suicide. Suicide by those in the armed forces, to be more precise. While the issue of veteran suicide has received some attention of the past few years, far less has been allotted to that of the suicide rate among active duty service people. I think that there is much yet to be said about this particular topic, and it's my hope that 2016 will see a more informed and aware public that is more willing to discuss it.

To help kick off the conversation, I've taken the time to take a look at the persistent issue of suicide among active duty service members. Let's take a look at how exactly the rates stack up currently, as well as how they've changed over the past few years.

A Steadily Rising Trend

According to a 2014 report entitled "Suicides in the Military: The Post-Modern Combat Veteran and the Hemingway Effect," the suicide rate among active duty personnel in the military is a steadily growing phenomena. Indeed, it is an issue that seems to have grown rather disproportionately over the past 10 years or so.

Before 2003, the suicide rates among active duty personnel in the military were below civilian rates. They remained fairly stable from 1990 to 2003, in fact, and it wasn't until 2003 that there seemed to be any change in that trend. 2003 was the year when indications of rising suicide rates among soldiers deployed in Iraq were reported, at a rate of about 18 people out of every 100,000.

Suicide rates would continue to rise over the course of the next nine years, and they eventually peaked in 2012. Active duty deaths in this year were numbered at about 319 deaths over the course of the year. The Department of Defense's Suicide Event Report claims that this number is about 22.7 per every 100,000 people, and is a notable increase from the suicide rate that was reported in 2003. This is also roughly double the civilian suicide rate that was reported in 2012. The reasons for this sharp increase is relatively unknown. There are many theories to be had, but no one seems to have a definitive answer.

It should be noted that the number of active duty soldiers who died by suicide has declined from 2012; however, not by much. The number reported for 2013 was 259. In 2014 this rate rose by about 6 percent to 268. I don't have the numbers for 2015 yet; however, it seems like a fairly safe assumption that the rates will have increased, even if only slightly.

What causes active duty personnel to take their lives?

To reiterate a point briefly touched upon above, the exact reason for the sharp increase of suicide rates among active duty service troops is not known. There are certainly many factors that might tell us part of the story -- things like gender or possibly even deployment destinations -- however, there is no one answer that seems to answer the question satisfactorily. One of the more promising theories that has been widely debated in the academic community for the past few years revolves around the stress of combat. It is thought that the inherent psychological and physical stress that active duty and combat bring are one of the major reasons that suicide rates within the military are so high. This doesn't necessarily explain why they seemed to be fairly stable before 2003; however, part of that discrepancy can probably be attributed to an increase in attention and reporting practices during that time.

What is the military doing to prevent suicides?

Regardless of why they are happening, it is undeniable that the rate of suicides among active duty troops is alarmingly high. What exactly is the military doing to help address and reverse this ever-rising trend?

One of the most important things that the military has done over the past decade is work to address the issue of accessing psychological care. This includes attempting to address and reduce the stigma associated with seeking help while enlisted as well as broadening the type of care available to those actively serving. And although it's true that the rates are increasing, it is equally true that they are not increasing as quickly as they did from 2004 to 2012. The military is also working on providing more extensive training to help better prepare new recruits for the psychological difficulties that they will likely face once they are deployed.

New Goals for Addressing and Preventing Military Suicides as We Welcome a New Year

The efforts that the military are expending when it comes to reducing the rate of suicide among active duty troops should be commended. That doesn't mean that the fight is over, however, and I think the numbers back that statement up pretty well. There is a lot of work yet to be done when it comes to understanding and preventing suicide among active duty troops.

As we welcome a new year, please keep the numbers explained and emphasized above in the forefront of your thoughts. Our servicemen deserve the attention and support.


If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

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Source: Healthy Living Huffington Post

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