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Suicide Among Military Personnel At An All-Time High

The number of suicides among those serving in the U.S. military has risen dramatically since 2005, and 2012 is likely to be the worst year for military suicides in the decade or so since the U.S. mobilized against enemies in Afghanistan and sent troops to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Some mental health professionals are describing the situation an “epidemic” of suicide.

Without a doubt, the statistics are grim and sobering: Suicides in the Armed Forces increased by 18 percent from September 2011 to September 2012. In the first 6 months of this year, military suicides took place at the rate of about one per day. In July, the Army experienced its single worst month for suicide since it began keeping detailed records – a total of 38 active-duty, National Guard and Reserves soldiers took their own lives. That figure was more than 50 percent higher than just the month before, prompting a statement from Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, vice chief of staff of the Army, that “Suicide is the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the Army.”

In fact, the latest fatality statistics reveal the shocking fact that an American service member is more likely to die by his or her own hand than by enemy action. Combat deaths so far this year in Afghanistan, from Jan. 1 through Oct. 22, totaled 222 for all branches of the military combined. Meanwhile, just through the month of September, the Army alone reported 247 possible suicides – 146 of them among active-duty personnel and 101 among troops not on active duty. In 2011, the Army had 283 confirmed suicides, according to Stars and Stripes. Despite the slight slowing of the 2012 military suicide rate since July, the rate of suicide so far this year in the Army is still ahead of the 2011 rate.

The Army designated September as Suicide Prevention Month and even conducted a stand-down day on Sept. 27 to focus on suicide prevention, with the theme “Shoulder to Shoulder: We Stand Up For Life.” By no means is the suicide problem confined to the Army, however. In August, Marine Corps Commandant James Amos told that National Press Club in a speech that 2012 is going to be a “tough year” in terms of suicides for all branches of the service.

The demands, stresses and pressures of military life, particularly of combat duty and long overseas deployments, make U.S. service members vulnerable to conditions such as PTSD, depression, anxiety and substance abuse. In turn, a soldier, sailor or airman suffering from any of these conditions is more likely to seek a “solution” to his or her problems in the act of suicide. The military suicide rate is double the suicide rate for civilians.

The nation’s military leadership has made increasing efforts to de-stigmatize mental health conditions so that our nation’s uniformed men and women will be more likely to seek appropriate treatment for them if needed. Once a person succeeds at a suicide attempt, however, he or she obviously can no longer be helped. The finality of suicide means that efforts have to focus on prevention. Military leaders have taken steps to increase awareness of the counseling resources that are available, including the phone number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and the special in-theater number for military personnel deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait at 94-800-273-TALK (8255).

The compound tragedy of suicide is that it doesn’t just affect the people who take their own lives. When a service member commits suicide, fellow soldiers, family and friends are left grieving and perhaps even seriously traumatized themselves. The non-profit organization Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which supports families of soldiers who have died in military service, estimates that each suicide deeply affects at least 10 other people. Unfortunately, according to the Psychiatric Times, sometimes one of the effects that a military suicide can have is to make the act of suicide seem less taboo and more reasonable to other members of the unit. One suicide can lead to others making the same choice, an idea that’s made even more troubling by the fact that almost 40 percent of military personnel know someone who has committed suicide.

The sad truth is that for military men and women, the risk of PTSD, depression, anxiety disorders and yes, suicide, do not go away when a person’s military service ends. These challenges also plague military veterans at a rate higher than that found in the general population. The Center for Counseling and Health Resources, in Edmonds, Washington, offers professional, caring treatment for PTSD, depression, and anxiety. The Center’s found, Dr. Gregory Jantz, believes in a unique “whole-person” approach to treatment that addresses each individual’s specific emotional, mental, psychological, spiritual and physical challenges and needs. Call The Center for a phone consultation today at 1-888-771-5166, and you’ll understand why it’s known as “A Place of Hope.”