Army Suicide Rate Increases Five Straight Years
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 11, 2009 The rate of soldier suicides this year exceeded the 2008 total with 147 reports through November, marking the fifth consecutive year the service’s suicide rate has increased.
In November, 12 potential suicides were reported among the active-duty Army, all of which still are under investigation. In addition, two potential suicides were reported for November among reserve-component soldiers not serving on active duty. For October, three of the 16 active-duty suicides reported now are confirmed, according to a statement released by the Army yesterday.
For 2009, 45 reports of possible active-duty suicides remain unconfirmed, along with 30 of the 71 reported suicides in the reserve components, the statement said.
The Army is working to combat its rising suicide rate through the recently launched Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, the Suicide Prevention Task Force and its five-year research partnership with the National Institute of Mental Health.
Despite frequent deployments and stressful operations tempo, Army officials believe leadership intervention is the biggest factor in prevention, Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, said in a media roundtable discussion last month.
More than one-third of the Army’s suicides this year have occurred with soldiers who never have deployed. The Army has determined that its efforts must reach the entire Army, not just those soldiers with multiple deployments, said Walter Morales, Army suicide prevention program manager, in the statement released yesterday.
Chiarelli is expected to meet this month with National Institute of Mental Health officials to receive a report and briefing on the institute’s initial findings. The institute is charged with studying every Army suicide to better understand the rising pattern to complement the service’s internal research, the general explained in last month’s discussion.
“We conduct an exhaustive review of every suicide within the Army,” said Army Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire, director of the Army’s Suicide Prevention Task Force. “What we have learned is that there is no single or simple answer to preventing suicide. This tells us that we must continue to take a holistic approach to identifying and helping soldiers and families with issues such as behavioral health problems, substance abuse, and relationship failures.”
The Army is testing pilot programs in virtual behavioral health counseling, enhanced behavioral counseling before and after deployment, and expanded privacy protections for soldiers seeking substance-abuse counseling. These programs are part of the Army’s overall campaign to increase health promotion, risk reduction and suicide prevention.
Officials are studying the results to determine the programs’ future roles in the Army’s prevention efforts, the statement said.
The 147 suicides reported this year are the highest number since the Army began recording such data in 1980.