Military suicides total 144 in 1st 6 months, on rate to surpass 2013

Infantry soldiers in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, perform exercises as an Army chaplain talks about suicide prevention awareness on Nov. 6, 2014.


By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 16, 2014

The number of suicides by active-duty, Reserve and National Guard servicemembers during the second quarter of 2014 declined by about 5 percent from the first three months of the year, dropping from 74 deaths to 70.

The number of suicides during the last half of this year would need to decline considerably to fall below the 254 suicides reported in 2013, based on information released last week on the Department of Defense Quarterly Suicide Report.

Both the rate and number of suicides declined from 2012 to 2013, but the death rate among Marines and soldiers — active, Reserve and National Guard — was particularly high.

Active-duty Marines and soldiers had a suicide rate of about 23 deaths per 100,000 servicemembers in 2013, compared with 12.5 suicides per 100,000 overall in the United States in 2012, the most recent rate calculated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The suicide rate among sailors also has increased this year. So far, 63 sailors — 48 on active duty and 15 reservists — have committed suicide this year, compared with 46 suicides last year, 41 active duty and five reservists.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert told Stars and Stripes recently that suicides have not dropped off the radar, despite increased focus on combating sexual assault.

“This is a real, hard problem,” he said, “We’ve got to continue to work on the resiliency of our sailors.”

Greenert said one of the biggest challenges has been identifying a thread — suicides in the Navy have varied in rank, age and deployment status.

Navy officials said a continued focus must be placed on developing supportive peers and leaders and the importance of seeking help. It’s an effort the Navy plans to emphasize with next year’s bystander intervention training, which is currently a key component of the Navy’s sexual assault prevention efforts.

The Army also has initiated a campaign to prevent suicide that relies heavily on peer intervention, employing slogans such as “Buddies can prevent suicide.” Posters displayed in common areas of Army bases ask, “Have you saved a life today?”

Jacqueline Garrick, acting director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, said in a Pentagon statement that fear of career damage remains one of the major obstacles to servicemembers seeking counseling and treatment.

“The goal is to eliminate the stigma of getting help,” she said. “So there’s been an increase in first-level, peer-to-peer groups, which have made a difference in enabling people who fear they may be jeopardizing their career to reach out for care.”

The most common stressors linked to suicide among servicemembers are financial and relationship problems, depression and abuse, she said.

On Monday, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., blocked a military suicide prevention bill named after former Marine Clay Hunt, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who killed himself in 2011.

For immediate help regarding suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800 273-8255.

Stars and Stripes reporter Hendrick Simoes contributed to this report.

Twitter: @WyattWOlson

A poster used during Suicide Prevention Month in September by the Arizona National Guard, whose 'Ruck for Life' 3-mile march is among the efforts to raise awareness of suicide prevention among servicemembers.