USA — Army Sees Slight Reduction in Active-duty Suicides

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2011 — Sui­cides among active-duty sol­diers dropped slight­ly last year to 156 con­firmed deaths, from 162 in 2009, the Army vice chief of staff said today.
At the same time, sui­cides among Nation­al Guard sol­diers increased, Gen. Peter W. Chiarel­li told reporters at a Pen­ta­gon news brief­ing.

“While we achieved mod­est suc­cess in reduc­ing the num­ber of sui­cides of these sol­diers on active duty, we saw a sig­nif­i­cant increase in the num­ber of sui­cides of sol­diers not serv­ing on active duty, to include a dou­bling in the Army Nation­al Guard,” he said.

In 2009, the num­ber of Guard and Reserve sol­diers who com­mit­ted sui­cide while not serv­ing on active duty was 80. In 2010, that num­ber near­ly dou­bled to 145.

“In 2010, we’ve got two obvi­ous ques­tions, Maj. Gen. Ray Car­pen­ter, act­ing direc­tor of the Army Nation­al Guard, said. “First of all, what hap­pened? And sec­ond, we have to be able to respond and tell peo­ple what we are doing about it,” he said.

The analy­sis for 2010 shows that sui­cide is more com­pli­cat­ed than sin­gle-issue stress trig­gers such as deploy­ments or job loss, Car­pen­ter said. More than half of the Army Nation­al Guard sui­cide vic­tims had nev­er deployed, and only about 15 per­cent were with­out a job. More than half who com­mit­ted sui­cide were expe­ri­enc­ing prob­lems in a roman­tic rela­tion­ship, he said.

“As you look at it, part of it is a sig­nif­i­cant rela­tion­ship prob­lem, because over 50 per­cent of those who com­mit­ted sui­cide had some sort of a part­ner prob­lem that they were deal­ing with whether it was mar­riage, divorce, or boyfriend, girl­friend, that kind of thing,” he said.

To curb sui­cides, the Army must train sol­diers to with­stand all types of stress­es, Car­pen­ter said. “Our effort is to build resilien­cy in sol­diers,” he said.

To help under­stand the fac­tors involved with sui­cide, the Army has part­nered with the Nation­al Insti­tute of Men­tal Health on a pro­gram called Army STARRS — the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Ser­vice Mem­bers — which began in late 2008.

NIMH and the rest of the research team – includ­ing the Uni­formed Ser­vices Uni­ver­si­ty of the Health Ser­vices, Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan, Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty and Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty – hope to iden­ti­fy the risk and pro­tec­tive fac­tors that affect a soldier’s psy­cho­log­i­cal resilience, men­tal health, and poten­tial for self-harm dur­ing the study, which runs through 2014. They are slat­ed to work with more than 400,000 sol­diers.

Col. Chris Philbrick, deputy direc­tor of Army Health Pro­mo­tion, Risk Reduc­tion Task Force, said in an ear­li­er release that research and analy­sis of the sui­cide cas­es of 2010 con­tin­ue to rein­force that there are no uni­ver­sal solu­tions to address the com­plex­i­ties of per­son­al, social and behav­ioral health prob­lems that lead to sui­cide with­in the Army. Chiarel­li, though, said he is hope­ful that sui­cides will con­tin­ue to drop as lead­ers focus more on the prob­lem.

“The pos­i­tive thing I see is that some of our pro­grams are begin­ning to work, but more impor­tant than any­thing else, our lead­ers are ful­ly engaged with this prob­lem right now,” he said. “We’re get­ting at the stig­ma issue, we’re get­ting peo­ple the help that they need, and I hope you’re going to see these num­bers go down sig­nif­i­cant­ly in the com­ing year.”

While the stress­es of the cur­rent wars, includ­ing long and repeat­ed deploy­ments and post-trau­mat­ic stress, are impor­tant poten­tial con­trib­u­tors, experts point out that sui­ci­dal behav­ior is a com­plex phe­nom­e­non. The study will exam­ine a wide range of fac­tors relat­ed to and inde­pen­dent of mil­i­tary ser­vice, includ­ing unit cohe­sion, expo­sure to com­bat-relat­ed trau­ma, per­son­al and eco­nom­ic stress­es, fam­i­ly his­to­ry, child­hood adver­si­ty and abuse, and over­all men­tal health.

“I real­ly believe when we put more time between deploy­ments … that is going to be a huge fac­tor in help­ing get at a lot of these prob­lems,” Chiarel­li said. “I real­ly believe that [time at home] is one of the things we have to look at, and has an impact on all kinds of prob­lems, not just sui­cides, but you know, all the things that fall short of sui­cide from rela­tion­ship issues to drug and alco­hol abuse, to high-risk behav­ior, to all those things. The more time we can get between deploy­ments, the bet­ter off we’ll be.”

Sol­diers and fam­i­lies in need of cri­sis assis­tance can con­tact the Nation­al Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Life­line. Trained con­sul­tants are avail­able 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and can be con­tact­ed at 1–800-273-TALK (8255).

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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