Study Sheds Light On U.S. Military Suicide Problem

When American soldiers attempt suicide, a study has found that the number one reason is to end severe emotional stress.

Last month, U.S. military suicides reached a rate of one per day, making suicide the most common cause of death in the military outside of actual combat. Newser reports researchers gave 72 soldiers who had attempted suicide a survey with 33 possible reasons for their attempt. Each soldier listed ten reasons on average, but all included the aforementioned response.

USA Today reports that the National Center for Veteran Studies at the University of Utah led the study, and of it, co-author Craig Bryan said that “this really is the first study that provides scientific data saying that the top reason … these guys are trying to kill themselves is because they have this intense psychological suffering and pain.” Since 2005 suicide rates in the military have surged, and have prompted the Pentagon to invest $50 million in research into suicide prevention and treatment. The project is led by Army Colonel Carl Castro, and is beginning to yield some results. In Castro’s words, “The core of the issue is that it’s not that people who attempt suicide … want to harm themselves as much as they want the pain they’re currently in to stop, and they don’t see any other way out.”

The study has shed light on the true complexity of the issue; as noted above, soldiers cited an average of ten reasons for their attempted suicides. Soldiers also attempted suicide as a means to end chronic sadness, to escape, or to express desperation.

The study has led military doctors to shift away from traditional suicide prevention treatments, which aim at underlying causes like depression or post traumatic stress disorder, and instead focus on first teaching soldiers to quell emotional pain. These new methods are being implemented in a small number of Department of Defense studies, and preliminary results show a drop in suicide attempts.