Military Health Chief Discusses Suicide Prevention Efforts
Military Health System
WASHINGTON, Sep. 27, 2013 In a statement issued today, Dr. Jonathan Woodson, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs and director of the TRICARE Management Activity, urged the military community to stand together with national and worldwide organizations to prevent suicide. September is National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month.
Dr. Woodson’s statement reads as follows:
The Military Health System joined with others in the Defense Department and national and worldwide organizations this month in bringing attention to one of our most preventable public health issues -- suicide.
Suicides have increased in recent years around the world, in the United States, and among our armed forces.
More than one million people worldwide died from suicide last year -- more than those killed by homicides and war combined, according to The International Association for Suicide Prevention and the World Health Organization, which co-sponsor World Suicide Prevention Day on Sept. 10. More than 34,000 Americans took their own lives last year, surpassing the number who died in vehicle accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While attention to suicides has focused on young people, the rate of those between the ages of 35 and 64 who killed themselves grew by 30 percent between 1999 and 2010, the CDC reported.
Our service members are not immune. While the suicide rate has traditionally been lower for the military ranks than for civilians, that trend has begun to reverse and even one is too many.
We’ve learned much about suicide in recent years. We know there are clear risk factors, including substance abuse, depression and other mental health related causes, at least one of which is present in 90 percent of suicide victims, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. We also know that financial and relationship problems play a role.
Among our service members, we know that half of those who died by suicide in recent years never served in Iraq or Afghanistan. But we also know that war trauma weighs heavily on those who did.
Most importantly, we know that suicide is preventable. We in military health, like those across the department, are working to spread awareness of suicide risk factors, reduce the stigma of treatment and educate our military community about the many ways to get help.
One of the most important things we can do is to promote the department’s Military Crisis Line. If you or a loved one are experiencing a crisis, do not hesitate to call 1 (800) 273-8255, and press 1 to speak to a trained counselor. Put the number in your cellphone. Share it through social networking. A caring professional is there to listen 24/7.
The military has hundreds of initiatives aimed at preventing suicide, and the Defense Suicide Prevention Office currently is streamlining them to promote the best programs and practices. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are actions that we can and are taking to ensure that everyone is aware of what can be done.
Our services have adopted programs to build resilience and instill the skills to manage life’s challenges and bounce back from adversity. We’ve increased the number of mental health providers in our network to some 60,000 professionals. We are training our leaders at all levels to recognize who is at risk and respond to their needs. And, we are working to reduce the stigma so that asking for help is considered a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness. Let me be clear: asking for help for yourself, a loved one, those around you or a battle buddy is a sign of strength.
We must stand together as a community to fight suicide. The importance of being vigilant cannot be overemphasized. The key is recognizing when others are at risk and in crisis -- and not being afraid to step in. Our job as military health care providers, paraprofessionals, and members of the DOD community at large is to have the courage to intervene.