WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of U.S. military suicides rose 15% last year, driven by a significant increase in the Army and Marine Corps, which senior leaders called troubling. He urged for more efforts to reverse the trend.
According to the data released on Thursday, there were 580 suicides last year, compared to 504 last year. Among them, the number of suicides by Army National Guard soldiers increased by about 35%, from 76 in 2019 to 103 the previous year, and the active duty army saw an increase of nearly 20%. Marine Corps suicides increased by more than 30%, from 47 to 62; While the Marine Corps reserve increased from nine deaths to 10.
“The findings are disturbing,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said. “Suicide rates among our service members and military families are still very high, and trends are not heading in the right direction.”
Suicide has long been a problem in the US military. While the reasons for the suicide are complex and not fully understood, military leaders have previously said they believed the COVID-19 pandemic was increasing tensions on an already strained force. Last year soldiers were called in to help provide tests and later vaccines while battling the virus among themselves and relatives and friends. They also dealt with constant battle-field deployments, national disasters, and often violent civil unrest.
Behavioral research has linked military suicides to a number of personal issues, including financial and marital stress.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby acknowledged that the Defense Department cannot fully explain the increase in suicides in recent years.
“One of the things I think about suicide is that it’s often very hard to connect the dots in causality—what drives someone to make that decision,” Kirby said. “It’s difficult to denote specific causality with suicide on an individual basis, let alone on an institutional basis. And I think that’s why it’s so difficult for us to speak with any specifics, except That we take it very seriously.”
For many years military leaders have sought to reduce the stigma associated with receiving mental health support.
Last year, General John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered this message in a remarkable public statement. He said he sought help while leading the US Strategic Command from 2016 to 2019. He did not disclose details, but said he saw a psychiatrist – a rare public admission by a senior official.
Army leaders on Thursday described suicide as a significant challenge to the service, noting that the trend has been increasing for the past five years.
Army Secretary Christine Wermuth and Army General James C McConville said, “While there is no clear understanding of what is causing the increase in suicides, we think we need to prevent suicide and ensure the availability and easy access to resources.” To do better has to be done.” chief of staff, in a statement.
The total number of suicides in the Navy came down from 81 to 79 and the Air Force remained the same at 109.
Defense officials told Pentagon reporters Thursday that the suicide rate per 100,000 service members did not increase by a “statistically significant” amount, adding that it was within the margin of error. Department data showed that rates for active duty, guards and reserves increased across the board between two and seven suicides per 100,000.
Army Major General Clement Coward, executive director of the Office of Force Resilience, said the department did not see a “statistical change in suicide rates” to indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact.
But, he said that they are still looking into the issue. “We have always known that COVID, and the measures to respond to it, present unique challenges that will include risk factors for some people,” he said.
He and Karin Orvis, director of the department’s Office of Suicide Prevention, acknowledged that the overall trend indicates that the department should be doing more to reduce the stigma of seeking help.
“Preventing suicide is the top priority among our overall forces,” Orvis said. “These trends don’t rest well with me or the department. I fully realize we have more work to do.”
According to the Pentagon, enlisted male service members under the age of 30 were at highest risk for suicide. While they make up less than 42% of the total force, men under 30 accounted for about 63% of suicide deaths.
Until now, the most common method of suicide was the gun, followed by hanging or asphyxiation.
Coward said the military suicide rate was on par with civilian US rates. A firearm was used more frequently within the military than in the civilian population.
If you or a loved one is having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.