Sunday, February 08, 2009

Suicide in the Army

The Army Times and National Public Radio recently reported on the growing suicide rate in the Army. The number of suicides has increased every year, growing from 87 in 2005 to 143 in 2008. The Army is aggressively trying to address the issue, but has been unable to find a specific cause of this increase.

The question arises as to whether the increase in suicides is directly related to the increase in combat deployments and "stress on the force" that comes from fighting two wars with a much smaller Army than existed in the Cold War era. While 35% of the suicides from this period were soldiers who had not deployed, 78% of those who committed suicide while deployed were on their first tour.

The immediate response by the Army is to require 2 - 4 hours of training on suicide prevention and identification across the force. This training will be conducted between February 15 and March 15.

In the summer of 2003, while I was in Iraq, the number of suicides increased dramatically for units deployed in that country. I vividly remember the suicide of a civil affairs captain that occurred at Camp Babylon while I was there. The man had a wife and children. The Army leadership responded in the same manner by requiring suicide prevention and identification classes for all of us.

I do not know enough about suicides or their causes to be able to say that the strain on the Army from multiple long deployments in a combat zone would be a source of increased suicides. Ultimately, the Army is made up of people, and the many complexities of the motivations and situations of the soldiers in the force should preclude any sweeping generalizations. The trend, however, is disturbing.