by – Sheri de Grom
Suicide by active duty military and reservists is at a record high, about one a day.
The numbers of active duty soldiers who’ve committed suicide are fifty-percent higher than the number of troops killed in Afghanistan in combat.
An estimated fifty-percent of the military that commit suicide never served in combat nor were they ever deployed to foreign soil.
Suicide rates are rising despite a determined push by the Pentagon to connect troops to a proliferation of resources: crisis intervention, therapy for post-traumatic crisis intervention, and therapy for other types of trauma including sexual abuse.
I believe many reasons account for the escalating suicide rates among active duty military and much of it has to do with deteriorating leadership capabilities within the ranks. Soldiers once had a feeling of camaraderie, the feeling that someone always had their back.
I frequently hear, “No one gives a damn.” Soldiers of today are not joining the same armed forces they heard stories about from their fathers and their grandfathers.
A report by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention states that the stress on the active duty soldier will continue to rise – even with the pace of combat deployments declining. A primary reason for this stress is that the military is shrinking because of budget reductions.
Separation boards are thinning the ranks. Both officers and senior enlisted are being forced out. It’s not just the Army down-sizing but the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy. Most of these individuals have been in more than twelve years and they don’t stay around if they don’t plan to have a military career.
Additional stress is resulting from soldiers being forced to leave the military and their separation from a familiar lifestyle. Suddenly careers are destroyed and family plans are left in shambles.
In a perfect world the good guys get promoted and the bad guys get punished and cut. But that’s never how it works in a giant bureaucracy like the military.
Soldiers are being asked to accept a lifestyle that is foreign to them. Before contractors came along and took over government, including the military, an envelope of safety seemed to fall around anyone entering a military base.
Before contractors, it was understood that everyone on base was military, a family member or civil service employee. This security is gone. Base housing is now operated by contractors and the homes are being rented out to non-military.
The rental of base housing is a slap in the face to active duty military. I’ll address the magnitude of problems that arrived with non-military renters in a separate blog.
A study by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center found that the most frequent diagnosis of military personnel medically evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2012 was not physical battle wounds but “adjustment reaction.” Adjustment reaction causes: grief, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and other mental disorders.
Mental health services are pitched as a potential solution, with the underlying assumption that the soldier is looking for a solution. But often, the service members in the greatest need of mental help are the ones most resistant to it, thus the call to action goes unanswered. This is in fact the greatest hurdle the military faces in their battle against military suicide: countering the disciplined self-reliance we train our service members to embrace.
In our perfect world, I’d place a minimum of three credentialed and licensed mental health workers (familiar with the military environment) at each platoon to help understand the daily rhythms in a soldier’s professional and personal life; someone who can earn the trust of the service members and respond immediately when needed – not after a call for an appointment. Mental health resources must be integrated into the modern garrison lifestyle.
The primary reasons given for suicides in the active duty military and reservists’ ranks are the same as most Americans in the same age grouping. The leading causes have always been: relationship issues and problems with finances.
The act of suicide is different with each individual. There’s not an easy fix and there’s no set of rules guaranteed that will save an individual. How do we know which soldier
needs our attention?
Suicide is complex and the trajectory toward death is as individual as the person.
I thank each of you for reading with me as we explore the difficult subject of suicide. Your love and responses have reinforced again why it is that I do what I do.