Military Suicides on the Rise….more dying at their own hand than at war….
Life in the U.S. Army, or any military branch, is very unique, and has a culture of its own. Any military member, past or present, will confirm that there is an inimitable bond between command-to-member, member-to-member, and military wife-to-military wife. Unfortunately, the press and press media do not cover this aspect of the military, or that more military members survive their injuries at a rate higher than any other war, or that there have been more military honors and decorations during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom totaling over 700,000 issued since September 11, 2001 for those in the Army alone. (HRC.mil, 2009)
The press and news media will immediately address what the military fails to do, the number of casualties, the costs associated OEF/OIF, the Walter Reed fiasco, and the number of suicides that have increased over the last few years, surpassing all other wars and higher in the US Army than any other service. However, the astonishing rate of 154 suicides in 2008 (Lorge, 2009) is not a reality that the US Army wants to be a part of their “Army Strong” image.
The Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) started shortly after September 11, 2001 and was in full motion by March 19, 2003. Since March 2003, there have been 3, 468 combat-related deaths, 889 non-hostile deaths, including 539 accidental deaths, 89 illnesses, 14 undetermined, 16 pending (new category name), 34 homicides and 197 suicides as of December 5, 2009 in Operation Iraq Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). (icasualties.org, 2009, Military Casualty Information, 2009) Undetermined deaths are awaiting official causes of death, the pending category is awaiting a new name from the Department of Defense, and accidental deaths can include deaths by vehicle, accidental overdose, and various other reasons. As of Tuesday, December 15, 2009, at least 334 members of the military services have committed suicide in 2009, compared with 297 killed in Afghanistan and 144 who died in Iraq, the figures show. In 2008, there were 256 known suicides in the US military.
Keep in mind that none of these numbers include the suicide rates of our Veterans. These numbers also do not include those numbers associated with other unknown causes of death, as it is a common practice in the military to avoid the declaration of a suicide if there is not a clear indication, like a suicide note, that the death was indeed self-inflicted. Here are some things to look for or consider:
Have you heard someone say:
Have you observed:
Life isn’t worth living
My family would be better off without me
Next time I’ll take enough pills to do the job right
Take my (prized collection, valuables) – I don’t need this stuff anymore
I won’t be around to deal with that
You’ll be sorry when I’m gone
I won’t be in your way much longer
I just can’t deal with everything — life’s too hard
Nobody understands me — nobody feels the way I do
There’s nothing I can do to make it better
I’d be better off dead
I feel like there is no way out
Getting affairs in order (paying off debts, changing a will)
Giving away articles of either personal or monetary value
Signs of planning a suicide such as obtaining a weapon or writing a suicide note
Have you noticed the following signs of depression:
If depression seems possible, have you also noticed:
Change in sleeping patterns (too much/little, disturbances)
Change in weight or appetite
Speaking and/or moving with unusual speed or slowness
Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
Withdrawal from family and friends
Fatigue or loss of energy
Diminished ability to think or concentrate,
slowed thinking or indecisiveness
Feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach, or guilt
Thoughts of death, suicide, or wishes to be dead
Extreme anxiety, agitation,
irritability or risky behavior
Racing thoughts, excessive energy,
reduced need for sleep
If you marked any of these answers, follow these steps:
Do take it seriously. 70% of all people who commit suicide give some warning of their intentions to a friend or member of their family.
Do be willing to listen. Even if professional help is needed, your friend or loved one will be more willing to seek help if you have listened to him or her.
Do voice your concern. Take the initiative to ask what is troubling your friend or loved one, and attempt to overcome any reluctance on their part to talk about it.
Do let the person know you care and understand. Reassure your friend or loved one that he or she is not alone. Explain that, although powerful, suicidal feelings are temporary, depression can be treated, and problems can be solved.
Do ask if the person has a specific plan for committing suicide, and how far he or she has gone in carrying it out. (Note: asking about suicide does not cause a person to think about – or commit – suicide. This is a myth.)
Do get professional help immediately. Bring your friend or loved one to the nearest emergency room or crisis center. (If the person is already in treatment, contact his or her clinician.) Your friend or loved one will be more likely to seek help if you accompany him or her.
Do follow up on treatment. Take an active role in following up with the treatment process and medications.
Be sure to notify the physician about any unexpected side effects or changes in behavior.
If for any reason you are unsure, uncomfortable, or unable to take action, find a healthcare professional with whom to share your concerns or contact Military OneSource: Stateside 1-800-342-9647 or Overseas 1-800-3429-6477.
Whatever you choose to do, the important thing is to make the effort.
Provided by Screening for Mental Health, Inc. (SMH)
With funding from the Department of Defense Office of Health Affairs
Contact SMH: One Washington Street, Suite 304, Wellesley Hills MA 02481