Combatting Soldier Suicides

The suicide rate in the U.S. military is out of control. During some periods, more active soldiers have taken their own lives than been killed in combat. U.S. military suicides hit a record 349 in 2012, although they declined to 265 in 2015. It’s even worse when the soldiers become vets. A Department of Veteran’s Affairs report in 2012 showed that 22 veterans a day were killing themselves—almost one an hour.


Memorial Day candle vigil march at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 26, 2014. Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez/Air Force/Department of Defense

New research published in JAMA Psychiatry, the journal of the American Medical Association, is providing further guidance for effective suicide prevention in the military. The study found that 60 percent of U.S. army suicides occurred among soldiers who had not yet been deployed to combat roles. In general the study highlighted the importance of transitional periods for suicide prevention efforts.

The JAMA researchers also found female soldiers were more likely to attempt suicide than their male counterparts. A 2015 Veterans Administration study showed that female military veterans commit suicide at nearly six times the rate of women in the general population—and 12 times the rate if the women are between the ages of 18 to 29.

The Christian Science Monitor and NBC News covered the JAMA study here and here.

The Monitor cited a 2015 report by the U.S. Office of Inspector General criticizing bureaucratic inefficiency in the Pentagon’s suicide prevention efforts:

The Defense Suicide Prevention Office lacked clear processes for planning, directing, guiding, and resourcing to effectively develop and integrate the Suicide Prevention Program within the DoD. We recommend the Defense Suicide Prevention Office provide an implementation strategy to adapt Department of Defense applicable evidence-based suicide prevention research findings into standard practices across the Department.

[If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.]