Military suicides overall dropped in 2022 as active-duty rate goes up and Pentagon works on prevention
Stars and Stripes October 26, 2023
WASHINGTON — The suicide rate among active-duty troops slightly increased in 2022 as the overall number of suicides decreased in the military, according to an annual Pentagon report released Thursday.
The Pentagon reported an active-duty suicide rate of about 25 suicide deaths for every 100,000 service members last year, a 3% increase from 2021.
“The rate difference is not statistically significant, so we have low confidence this is a true change. It could be natural variability or chance,” said Liz Clark, the Pentagon’s director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office.
Clark said this also holds true for the rate of decreases among the Reserve and National Guard troops of 12% and 18%, respectively.
Elizabeth Foster, the executive director of the Pentagon’s Force Resiliency Office, said due to the decreasing size of the active-duty force, the Defense Department believes the rate of suicides, rather than the number of suicides, is a more accurate measure.
The department’s fifth annual “Suicide in the Military” report showed 492 service members died by suicide in 2022, down from 524 in 2021.
For active-duty troops, there were 331 suicides in 2022, compared with 328 in 2021. Of those, Army suicides dropped from 175 in 2021 to 135 in 2022. The Marine Corps saw the biggest increase, from 43 to 61. The Air Force followed, which increased from 51 to 64, and the Navy dropped from 59 to 71. Space Force did not have any suicides.
As in previous years, the 2022 report identifies young, enlisted men as the most vulnerable to suicide. About 91% of active-duty suicides were among enlisted troops, 68% of suicides were among those younger than 30 years old and 93% were among male troops.
Firearms were the most common method of suicide, the report concluded. About 69% of suicides among active-duty troops were with a gun.
The Defense Department in recent years has aimed to improve mental health care access for troops, amid increases in suicide rates and outcry from members of Congress and others.
There were almost 29 suicides per 100,000 troops in 2020 — up from 17.5 per 100,000 in 2010, according to Defense Department data. That figure fell to 24.3 per 100,000 in 2021, but it still represented an uptick in suicides compared to most of the 2000s and 2010s.
In 2022, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved the establishment of the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee, and the group made 127 recommendations of near- and long-term solutions to address suicides in the ranks.
The independent panel recommended the department implement a series of gun safety measures to reduce suicides in the force, including waiting periods for the purchase of firearms and ammunition by service members on military property.
The panel said the department should also raise the minimum age to 25 for service members to buy guns and ammunition and should require anyone living in military housing to register privately owned firearms. In addition, the panel said the department should restrict the possession and storage of privately owned firearms in military barracks and dorms.
Austin released a memo last month outlining more than 100 recommendations to be implemented by 2030 to address the suicide crisis in the military. Some of the recommendations included expanding telehealth services, increasing appointment availability by revising the mental health staff model, launching a comprehensive public education campaign on firearm safety, and updating the amount of suicide prevention training. The department chose not to implement the firearm changes at the time.
“There is no single solution to preventing suicide, but I remain focused on actions that will make a real difference and change the culture around this critical challenge,” Austin said in a statement. “Together, we can prevent suicide and take care of every outstanding patriot who steps up to defend our country.”
The 2022 suicide report also included data about military family suicides for 2021. The military family suicide rate is about 6.5 suicides per 100,000 family members, a 16% decrease from 2020.