U.S. Military Suicides – A Shocking Truth

Could More Be Done to Help Mitigate these Trends?

A dramatic surge in the number of suicides, amongst U.S. military personnel, have alarmed government officials and mental health experts, to the extent that new research into the area has proved an inevitability. The conclusions reveal a shocking truth.

The study describes an unprecedented rise in the number of suicides observed, since 2005; in recent years, suicide has become one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. military, rising from a baseline rate of 10.3 individuals per 100,000 in 2005, up to 16.3 per 100,000 people in 2008. It was found that the highest mortality rates were established amongst individuals within the Marine Corps and Army personnel, but, in 2009, the suicide rate had peaked and remained steady.

The research’s results were published Tuesday, by Cynthia A. LeardMann of the Deployment Health Research Department, along with her colleagues. The study acquired a voluntary sample selection of more than 150,000 members of the United States military, ready to investigate potential risk factors associated with suicide. The authors indicate that other studies had failed to capture an accurate insight of military operatives during deployment, relative to ensuing post-service periods. They aimed to delve deeper than their peers, conducting longitudinal studies in 2001, 2004 and 2007. In deriving their sample, they cast a wide net to guarantee participants from all stretches of military life, to incorporate current and former members of the service branches and National Guard.

U.S. Military Troops

The results demonstrated that male sex, depression, manic-depressive disorders, alcohol-related issues and the frequency of alcohol consumption were all associated with an increase in suicide risk. This corresponded with non-military populations, where methodologically similar studies have already been conducted by a number of other researchers. Although suicides in the military reached a record high in 2012, claiming the lives of 349 people, the increase in suicide rate has been even greater amongst the civilian population.

Hawton and Heeringen formulated an article in the Lancet, entitled Suicide (2009), which confirmed that people in the general population were predisposed to suicidal tenancies, resulting from similar factors to those outlined by LeardMann. They suggested, individuals with a history of psychiatric illness were much more likely to commit suicide; these issues ranged from personality disorders to clinical depression. Interestingly, Hawton and Heeringen focus on a number of other prominent issues, which appear to link closely with suicide, including an individual’s upbringing, family history of suicide, and prior exposure to a suicidal behaviors.

In truth, contrary to popular opinion, factors associated with the act of military enlistment and service, in and of itself, did not display a positive correlation to the witnessed elevation in suicide numbers. Shockingly, length of deployment, number of deployments, and combat experience were all considered irrelevant factors, which do not contribute towards U.S. military staff’s susceptibility to suicide.

United States FlagWhen attempting to explain the rise in suicide rate amongst those with psychiatric disorders, within the U.S. military, the study draws our attention to improved screening protocols. It is thought that a rise in the health authorities’ ability to detect mental health issues is the reason we seem to observe this increasingly strong relationship between suicide and psychiatric disorders.

When discussing the future implications of these results, the team conclude:

“These findings suggest that current prevention initiatives in the DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs that address previous mental health disorders and involve screening and facilitation of high-quality treatment for mental and substance use disorders in primary care, specialty mental health care, and postdeployment settings have the greatest potential to mitigate suicide risk.”

It seems the key to solving this horrifying trend of suicide could lie in tackling alcohol abuse problems and depression. LeardMann’s study provides extremely useful data, the conclusions of which could be implemented to evaluate and amend military policy and procedure.

According to Forbes, the principle investigator assigned to the study, Dr. Nancy Crum-Cianflone, draws her conclusions:

“The main risk factor is not that you deployed… That’s not where people should get concerned.”

In the near future, such shocking truths behind the deaths of U.S. military members will, hopefully, be a thing of the past. The health and safety of our U.S. military force is paramount and we owe them our utmost consideration and help.

By: James Fenner

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