Military suicide is a major concern for all military branches, and attention should continue to be paid to this critical problem. There are many different factors that make the military unique regarding servicemembers’ exposure to stress; if this stress is not managed properly, it can lead to mental health problems and even suicide.
Servicemembers can experience stress for various reasons:
- Exposure to traumatic incidents that can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder
- Long-term separation from loved ones
- Organizational stressors
- Financial problems
- Frequent deployments
Currently, military suicide rates are at an all-time high ever since recordkeeping started after 9/11. According to the United Service Organizations (USO), research from 2021 revealed that 30,177 active-duty members and veterans who served after 9/11 lost their lives due to suicide. The USO also states that military suicide rates were four times higher than the deaths that occurred in military operations during the same period, which included the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Related link: How We Can Mitigate the Risk of Police Officer Suicides
Knowing the Warning Signs of a Military Suicide
To prevent military suicides, it is critical for those who are struggling to reach out for help. Similarly, supervisors and other servicemembers should watch out for any warning signs that someone may be at risk of suicide.
In many military suicide cases, there are often behavioral warning signs. Some of those warning signs from servicemembers include:
- Talking about ways to end their lives
- Showing a substance abuse problem
- Preferring to remain isolated
- Giving away personal possessions that were once considered important
- Returning from a recent deployment and showing symptoms of PTSD
- Demonstrating a non-caring attitude about life following a lack of rank advancement or a disciplinary action
- Developing unusual spending habits and no longer caring about money management
- Showing violent mood swings, irritability, and unreasonable changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Going through a complicated divorce
What to Do If a Servicemember Is Suicidal
If a servicemember is expressing suicidal thoughts or actions, coworkers and supervisors must take a proactive role in helping that servicemember to avoid a military suicide. In cases when a military suicide seems imminent, someone should stay with that servicemember until additional support arrives.
On occasion, it may be necessary to contact 911 or base security if immediate intervention is necessary. Another resource is the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 988 and pressing 1 or by texting 838255.
Related link: Helping First Responders Overcome the Effects of Stress
What Service Branches Are Doing to Prevent Military Suicide Rates
Different branches commonly provide military suicide prevention training, which has an important role in mitigating suicides. The Army, for instance, has the Army Suicide Prevention Program (SP2). This program is designed to strengthen servicemember readiness by providing training and information on preventing suicides. It also promotes resilience for soldiers, civilians that work for the Army, and family members.
The Army says that its annual suicide prevention training is conducted based on the “Ask, Care, Escort” (ACE) model. This model helps servicemembers to find resources in times of crisis, and it provides a formal process for servicemembers to care for a fellow soldier who is experiencing a crisis.
Reaching Out for Help Is Critical
Ultimately, servicemembers should not hesitate to speak to someone else if they are struggling in their personal lives. Helpful people can be supervisors, clergy such as base chaplains, counselors who offer services through military work-life programs, and other similar resources. Trained counselors, clergy and other people can connect struggling servicemembers to helpful resources and assist them with life’s challenges.