Despite prevention efforts, military suicides hit a record high in 2018, Newsweek reports. According to the Pentagon’s annual suicide report, a total of 541 active duty, reserve, and National Guard troops took their own lives in 2018.
While suicides among National Guard forces and reserves remained constant over the last five years, rates have increased among active duty soldiers over the same time frame. Even more concerning is that the suicide rate within active duty ranks jumped from 18.5 to 24.8 suicides for every 100 service members between 2013 and 2018. Overall, the U.S. Navy experienced a “statistically significant increase” in suicide rates between 2013 and 2018.
The report comes not long after a string of suicides last week on the Navy aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush. Captain Sean Bailey, the commanding officer of the carrier, addressed the disturbing pattern on Facebook.
“My heart is broken. These deaths mark the third, fourth, and fifth crew member suicides in the last two years. Now is the time to come together as a crew and as a family to grieve, to support each other, and to care for those in need.”
Suicide prevention in the military currently focuses on addressing stressors across social levels. It also focuses on encouraging combatants to speak about their personal issues via open dialogue, as well as educating U.S. forces and family members about the influence that mental health and behavioral factors can have on suicide.
This is horrific.— Jason Leopold (@JasonLeopold) September 26, 2019
DOD Releases Report on Suicide Among Troops, Military Family Members pic.twitter.com/US35X09fPz
“We all have a role in suicide prevention: individual service members, unit leaders, families and mental health professionals. Every Marine and Sailor must work together to be engaged in each other’s lives,” said Marine Commandant General David H. Berger, adding that mental health struggles — including suicidal ideation — should be discussed and considered just as seriously as marksmanship, training, education, and physical fitness.
“Our numbers are not moving in the right direction,” said Elizabeth Van Winkle, director of the Pentagon’s office of force resiliency.
Although Van Winkle noted that the suicide rates of the military mirror those of civilians, the problem must still be addressed, per Associated Press. She claims that in addition to current solutions, the military is looking to focus more effort on training troops how to safely store their firearms, as guns were the chosen method for 60 percent of the suicides in the recent study. As of now, Van Winkle claims there is a lack of consistent regulations on firearms storage.
Back in 2014, suicide became the leading cause of death for members of the American military, overtaking war and other traditional causes of death such as homicide, heart disease, and transportation accidents.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. For readers outside the U.S., visit Suicide.org or Befrienders Worldwide for international resources you can use to find help.