Suicides In The Military: On The Rise

Sadly the number of self-inflicted deaths for active duty military members, reservists, and members of the National Reserve continued to increase in 2016.  Although the statistics for suicides in the military are not yet out for the entire year of 2016, the Department of Defense reported 110 suicides in the first quarter and 103 suicides in the second quarter of 2016 (DOD Defense Suicide Prevention Office), which means that there could be close to 400 military suicides just last year.  These statistics are significantly more than any training or combat-related deaths in the military in 2016.

So how do we make sense out of these rising numbers?  It is an understatement to say that suicide continues to be a critical public health issue, both in the military and in the civilian communities.  Although there is not a single or clear cause or precipitant to suicide, there are patterns and trends associated with suicides in the military that have been identified over the years.   According to research conducted by the DOD DSPO (2016), some of the common factors linked to suicide include exposure to combat and life threatening situations during deployments and challenges with managing the significant transitions that active duty service members experience when they join the service as well as leading to and following deployments.  More emphasis is being placed on the latter as a risk factor of suicide since it has been found to result in substantial disruptions in service members’ interpersonal relationships.  Along these same lines, an individual’s degree of experiencing feelings of connection and belongingness to others within their community during times of transition can influence level of risk. 

It is important to acknowledge that a number of individuals in the military enter the service with pre-existing stressors and mental health issues that place them more at risk for suicide, especially after they experience some of the demands and stressors associated with military life. 

So what can we do to begin to reverse this trend?  For one, everyone can take accountability for knowing that we each have a critical role in preventing suicide, regardless of who we are or what we do for a living since suicide affects everyone.

Other steps we can take are:

1.     Recognize the warning signs to suicide in those around you. This includes listening and looking for:

  •      an increase in substance use; isolation or withdrawal from support network
  •     a significant change in behavior, especially after a loss, trauma, or life transition
  •       reckless behavior
  •       insomnia or sleeping too much
  •       giving away personal belongings
  •       calling/writing to people to say goodbye
  •       researching or looking for ways to die
  •       aggressiveness and rage
  •       depression
  •       Irritability/anger
  •       Humiliation/embarrassment
  •       Decreased involvement in activities and hobbies
  •       Anxiety
  •       Talk of severe hopelessness or being a burden to other people
  •        Expressing pain and not having any reasons to live
  •       Expressing suicidal ideation that the individual wants to kill themselves 

2.      Be willing to listen in a non-judgmental manner.

3.      Offer hope that there are options for getting help.

4.      Seek support from others who can provide resources or treatment.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or is at risk for suicide, use these resources below to access help 24/7:

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 press 1

Crisis Chat for online emotional support:

Crisis Text Line: Text START to 741-741

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT