Suicide among active-duty troops has risen steadily over the past decade, reaching a record 350 in 2012. That was twice as many as the prior decade, surpassing the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan.
The rate of military suicide has continued to increase at a rate faster than that of the general population, and there are reports that the military may be undercounting the problem because of the way the suicide rate is calculated. Unfortunately, the Department of Defense is doing little to increase their understanding of why military suicide is rising so fast.
Most researchers agree there are many factors contributing to the issue of military suicide, including mental illness, sexual or physical abuse, addictions, failed relationships, or financial struggles. A recent Pentagon report about military suicide found that half of the individuals committing suicide in 2011 had experienced the failure of an intimate relationship and about a quarter had been diagnosed with having some form of substance abuse.
Some of the factors acting as catalysts to military suicide include multiple instances of deployment and exposure to combat situations, as well as drug abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries. Yet this does not reflect the entire picture. Reportedly, about half the service members who committed suicide have never been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, and over 80 percent have never seen combat. Clearly there is something else going on here.
Records show that since 2001, over 2,700 service members have killed themselves. Suicide among veterans has risen to an estimated 22 a day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. That figure is also likely under-reported as sometimes no one is sure if the death was a suicide or an accident.
Some additional facts related to military suicide from the Pentagon’s 2011 annual report on suicide:
- About 9 of 10 suicides involved enlisted personnel, not officers
- Three of four victims did not attend college
- More than half were married
- Eight in 10 died in the United States
- Most did not leave notes or indicate in any way their intention to hurt themselves
Perhaps the biggest challenge in finding a solution to the problem is getting suicidal service members into treatment. Due to the stigma surrounding mental health issues, many service members continue to avoid treatment fearing it will be ineffective or hurt their careers.