Understanding & Reducing the Army Suicide Rate: Commitment to Protecting Our Service Members
For those who serve, the military is more than just a job; it’s a way of life. It’s a strong community that offers support and camaraderie in times of hardship. That’s why news of the Army suicide rate is especially devastating. According to the Annual Report on Suicide in the Military for 2022, there has been a decrease in the suicide rate for active-duty service members. However, the Army has much work to do to protect our service members. The Department of Defense (DoD) is committed to preventing suicides in our military community, acknowledging that every death by suicide is a tragedy. The DoD has taken proactive steps to mitigate any potential impact. From education and support to emphasizing social connectedness, Army leaders must continue their commitment to improving soldier mental care through engaged leadership. This article explores the current state of the army suicide rate and DoD initiatives to protect service members and offers tips for leaders to support their soldiers’ mental health. Join us as we examine what the DoD and Army are doing to understand and reduce the suicide rate.
- Analyzing the Army Suicide Rate
- Potential Factors Contributing to Army Suicides
- Solutions for Reducing the Army Suicide Rate
- The Role of Leadership in Addressing the Problem
- Supporting Mental Health Among Service Members
- Resources and Support for Service Members
ANALYZING THE ARMY SUICIDE RATE
The Quarterly Annual Report on Suicide in the Military for 2022 indicates that the Army suicide rate decreased for active-duty service members in the preceding year (Clark 2022). According to Elizabeth Foster, executive director of the DoD’s Office of Force Resiliency, “fewer service members died by suicide in 2021 than in 2020 — 519 to 582. The suicide rate among active-duty troops decreased from 28.7 per 100,000 in 2020 to 24.3 per 100,000 in 2021, a 15 percent decrease (Garamone 2022).” The decline in the Army’s suicide rate is a positive sign. However, the DoD and the Army should continue proactively addressing the underlying causes of suicide among service members. The report indicates that identifying risk factors and improving the quality of life for service members can help reduce the army suicide rate. The DoD strives to increase awareness of psychological distress and suicide risk by providing education and training for our leaders, medical staff, and civilians. The DoD is researching to identify risk factors and protective factors that could lead to preventive measures to reduce suicides in the military.
POTENTIAL FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO ARMY SUICIDES
The Annual Report on Suicide in the Military for 2022 outlines potential factors contributing to the Army suicide rate. The report states that anxiety, depression, relationship and physical health issues are the most common risk factors impacting an individual’s mental health. There is also evidence that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) are associated with an increased risk for suicide. The report also found that access to firearms, past suicide attempts, and a family history of suicide are among other potential risk factors. These risk factors can be challenging to identify and address, but the DoD provides education and support to service members to mitigate the likelihood of suicide.
SOLUTIONS FOR REDUCING THE ARMY SUICIDE RATE
The DoD has outlined several initiatives focused on reducing the army suicide rate. In 2019, the DoD launched the Ready to Thrive: Comprehensive Plan to Address Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families. This plan focuses on improving the quality of care for service members, addressing suicide prevention from a public health approach, and providing support to families of those affected by suicide. The DoD has also implemented the Five Pillars of the Ready to Thrive plan. These pillars include the Standardization of Care, Prevention & Education, Analyze & Identify Triggers, Improved Support for Families, and Improved Well-Being. Each segment addresses the various risk factors that can lead to suicide.
There are other initiatives the DoD launched to protect service members, including expanding access to mental health services, increasing suicide prevention training, and promoting social connectedness. The DoD has also launched the Real Warriors Campaign, which provides resources and support to service members, veterans, and their families. Additionally, the DoD has established the Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO), responsible for developing and implementing suicide prevention policies and programs.
THE ROLE OF LEADERSHIP IN ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM
Engaged leadership can play a vital role in supporting soldiers’ mental health. You need to create an environment where soldiers feel comfortable seeking help for mental health issues. This can be achieved by promoting mental health awareness, reducing the stigma of seeking help, and providing access to resources and treatment. Ensure soldiers have access to social support networks, which can help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. But, before any of these initiatives can happen, leaders like you need to listen to soldiers. Listen when they speak directly to you, and keep your ears open when they do not. Seemingly minor issues might serve as a kindle for a downward spiral. Remember, just because you are resilient does not mean everyone on your team or in your unit has the mental fortitude to carry on to the Ranger objective. Besides, listening is free. Calvin Coolidge expertly stated that “no man has ever listened himself out of a job.”
Leadership is vital for helping to reduce the Army’s suicide rate. You are responsible for recognizing and addressing any risk factors that could lead to suicide among their service members. You can help to provide education and resources to their service members to reduce the risk of suicide. It is also crucial for leaders to create a supportive environment where service members feel comfortable discussing their mental health. Engaged leadership means you connect service members to the resources they need. Soldier often hesitate to seek help due to the stigma surrounding mental health. By providing an open and supportive environment, leaders can help them access the care they need to improve their mental health.
While there are experts who have yet to crack the code on reducing the Army suicide rate, we recommend starting with the easiest solution; get to know your people. Ask the right and hard questions during in-processing and the initial counseling. Our recommendation does not begin to scratching the surface, but understanding your soldiers is a good start.
Take care of your soldiers, and support your NCOs, and they will feel empowered to take care of their soldiers and accomplish the mission.
SUPPORTING MENTAL HEALTH AMONG SERVICE MEMBERS
The DoD provides the Military OneSource program for service members and their families. The program offers confidential counseling services, financial counseling, legal services, and other resources. Additionally, the DoD provides several apps allowing service members to access mental health resources on time.
- Promote Military OneSource
- Provide a predictable schedule within reason; not every task is a must-do all the time
- Provide access to self-assessment tools
- Support access to mental health screening
- Encourage open dialogue
- Use the 5th Rule of Patrolling
- Participate in Army-sponsored programs
- Hold leaders accountable to schedules within reason
- Use the ArmyFit Azimuth Check
- Speak with an MFLC or mental health provider
- Have someone to talk to or to decompress
- Use the 5th Rule of Patrolling
RESOURCES AND SUPPORT FOR SERVICE MEMBERS
The DoD and the US Army must protect the mental health of service members through dedicated efforts. The DoD commits resources and support for service members and their families. Additionally, Army leadership is essential in recognizing and addressing risk factors that could lead to suicide. From providing education and support to emphasizing social connectedness, Army leadership must continue their commitment to improving soldier mental care.
The Military Crisis Line (MCL) is a toll-free, confidential resource with 24/7 support. It connects Service members, including National Guard and Reserve members, and their family members with qualified, caring responders. The MCL has a staff of responders who understand the challenges that Service members and their loved ones face.
- Call: Dial 988, then Press 1
- Chat: Military Crisis Line
- Text: 838255
Need crisis assistance while overseas? The following overseas locations have direct crisis line numbers for active duty Service members:
- In Europe: Call 00800 1273 8255 or DSN 118
- In Korea: Call 0808 555 118 or DSN 118
Crisis chat support is available elsewhere and internationally at www.MilitaryCrisisLine.net. In an emergency, dial 911 or your local emergency number immediately. An emergency is any situation that requires immediate assistance from the police, fire department, or ambulance.
Military OneSource provides 24/7 support to Service members, including the National Guard and Reserve, and eligible family members for non-crisis concerns, such as relationship, family, or financial challenges. Arrange a face-to-face, phone, online, or video counseling session:
- CONUS: 800-342-9647
- OCONUS: 800-342-9647 or 703-253-7599 (for country-specific instructions, see https://www.militaryonesource.mil/international-calling-options/)
- Chat: https://livechat.militaryonesourceconnect.org/chat
- Web: https://www.militaryonesource.mil
- Mobile App: My Military OneSource (available from Google Play and the Apple App Store)
The army suicide rate is devastating; however, there is hope. The DoD is committed to identifying the risk factors that can lead to suicide and providing the necessary resources to protect service members. Army leadership is responsible for recognizing and addressing risk factors among their service members. With education, support, and resources, the DoD continuously strives to reduce the army suicide rate but needs your help.
- Photo Credit: Positive Psychology.com
- Photo Credit: Department of Defense
- Clark, Liz. 2022. “Department of Defense (DoD) Quarterly Suicide Report (QSR) 3 rd Quarter, CY 2022.” Defense Suicide Prevention Office. October 1. https://www.dspo.mil/Portals/113/TAB%20A_20221229_OFR_Rpt_Q3%20CY22%20QSR_1.pdf.
- Garamone, Jim. 2022. US Department of Defense. October 20. https://www.defense.gov/News/News-Stories/Article/Article/3195429/active-duty-suicide-rate-drops-austin-says-more-work-needed/.