Suicide In The Military: What's Killing Off Our Troops

In 2010, 830 American soldiers were killed. That's a sad enough statistic, but what makes it even more sad is of that 830, 468 died at their own hand. That's right...468 American soldiers ended their own lives by suicide. That was an increase from 381 in 2009...almost 100 more. In 2008, less than 90 soldiers committed suicide. In the Marines alone in 2007, the number of suicides doubled from 2006. Each year since 2003, the number has increased. What's the reason for this growing trend? And more importantly, what can be done about it?

You would think that the continued and repeated deployment of American soldiers would be the most likely reason for this alarming tend, but there's much more to the problem than that. Certainly the lengthy and repeated deployments factor into the equation, but not as much as you would think. As a matter of fact, the bulk of soldiers committing suicide are ones who have never even left American soil or who are on their first deployment.

Why Do People Take Their Own Lives?

The military has been taking a long hard look at the issue of suicide in the ranks for quite a while now. The Army commissioned a 15-month study beginning in 2009 to determine what the risk factors were and what they could do to prevent it. A report was released in July 2010 pointing toward several factors, but awareness and availability of treatment being key to helping soldiers with mental issues. The issues many of these soldiers had were recurring ones, but somehow they seemed to fall through the cracks before they could get help.

Soldiers who committed suicide generally killed themselves for the same reasons other people in the civilan population kill themselves, but will the complications of living the military lifestyle to compound the issue. The common threads are alcohol and drug abuse, marital discord, and financial problems. Throw a couple of separations from family on top of that and a deployment or two and you have a recipe for disaster.

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Seeking Help

It hasn't always been the position of the military to accept that soldiers may have mental issues associated with combat or everyday life, but they have changed their stance in recent years. The continued involvement of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan has increased the military's focus on taking care of soldiers and their families. Every soldier and civilian employee now has to go through annual suicide prevention training, alerting them to the signs of potential suicide and the resources available for them if they feel they need help. This is a big step for the military who has long had the stance that if you had any kind of issue, they didn't need you. Many soldiers over the years have avoiding seeking treatment, because they have been afraid it would "hurt their career."


The Real Issue With Preventing Suicide

Just like in the civilian sector, soldiers need to know that there are channels available to them should they start having issues and that there will be no repercussions if they seek help for their problems. Over half of American soldiers who committed suicide had never been deployed, so pointing to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in all cases is not the answer. The real issue in preventing suicide within the military as well as in the civilian sector is teaching people to bounce back from diversity. Too many people in today's society treat every situation as if it were the end of the world and that there is no recourse, but to end their lives, rather than seek solutions. From the mental health studies the military has conducted, they do realize that resiliency is key in helping soldiers to cope and have set up resiliency centers for soldiers and their families as a means to increase their coping skills. Hopefully. as commanders become more aware and sensitive to mental health issues, soldiers become more resilient, and mental health treatment becomes destigmatized, military suicides will decrease.

Signs That A Person May Be Contemplating Suicide

There are several signs that a person may be considering taking their own life:

  • Not taking care of personal appearance, changes in appearance or personality
  • Talking about suicide
  • Previous attempts at suicide
  • A triggering event, such as a divorce, demotion, or death in the family
  • Risky behaviors
  • Increased use of alcohol
  • Getting "affairs in order", such as giving away personal items, making a will, etc.
  • Constantly talking about death

If you know a soldier or anyone who has these symptoms, get them to a mental health professional immediately! The number for the National Suicide Hotline is 1-800-784-2433.

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Comments 23 comments

Lynn S. Murphy 5 years ago

Thank you for shedding light on this horrific problem. My son is in the Army and a lot of them commit suicide in boot camp. They have watches set up in hopes of saving some of these young people that are in situations that are so stressful and intense.


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

My heart goes out to your son and every military family. I work with them everyday and see the kind of stress they are under. It's heartbreaking to watch a wife handle her two young children alone while her husband gets deployed over and over.


Debby Bruck profile image

Debby Bruck 5 years ago

Hello DIYweddingplanner. Excellent topic and worthy of many hubs. Helping to get the word out and show support. i wrote a hub some time ago on this same issue of Veteran's Epidemic Suicide Rate http://hubpages.com/t/168895 I shall link over to here too. Blessings, Debby


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Thanks, Debby. Wow, didn't know, going to read right now!


A.A. Zavala profile image

A.A. Zavala 5 years ago from Texas

I grew up in the military, and was a soldier myself. The one constant in my life was the phrase "Suck it up and drive on." My father told me that most of my life, and I lived that way most of my life. There was never an opportunity to ask for help or assistance in unburdening micro-traumas encountered during life in the military. Now, the problem is being adressed, and I hope we can intervene in preventing suicide. Thank you for sharing.


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

A.A., think that was (and in some cases still is) the ideology in the military. I've seen any blog posts about the mamby-pambying of the military and how we coddle our soldiers too much, but we have to consider who they were before they came to us as soldiers. If you were raised a certain way and then got to the military and told to suck it up, you're gonna have some issues. I think nothing but good can come from bringing fears and issues out in the open where they can be addressed.


vietnamvet68 profile image

vietnamvet68 5 years ago from New York State

The main problem is the way kids are raised now days, they are babied to much by there parents and sit around playing their video games all day and when it comes time to face real live situations and see people die for real they can't handle it. They are even babied in Basic Training now days.


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

VietnamVet, you know when I was researching this story, I found several people who shared your opinion. You have to admit, killing off people in a video game is very different than the reality of having to shoot a live human being. I like to think humans were never meant to kill other humans in the first place.


Debby Bruck profile image

Debby Bruck 5 years ago

I recommend everyone go back and reread DIY's hub to get more out of it. The wealth of knowledge and ideas provokes the imagination. We must evaluate that a large majority of persons who have NOT gone into battle or into the field commit suicide. As I looked at the image of caskets, I remembered that Pres Bush made it a point to hide the images of death and shield the American public from many gross facts.

Is anyone doing a survey of the families who have lost loved ones to find out the surrounding factors in their lives that pushed them over the edge? Why soldiers more than any other population?


vietnamvet68 profile image

vietnamvet68 5 years ago from New York State

In my opinion another factor is that Americans are too sheltered to the reality of News events, if they showed more reality of what goes on in war people might open there eyes. During the Vietnam War it was on the nightly news showing the killing and finally Americans had a enough and started protesting to stop the war. But as long as we have Governments bent on killing there will always be wars in this world. The reality of War has been hidden from people for far too long. Maybe some would rather kill themselves than have to go kill someone else. War is not pretty for the ones who have never been to war or seen war up close and personal they have no clue to what it does to a person. I was thrown into battle at 18 and still live with the scars of war it is something some cant handle bescause it stays with you your entire life. One of the main reasons I left the service was that I could not deal with the way we had to train the troops in the 90's they are Babied way to much, you can't yell at the troops or swear at them you have to use kid gloves anymore and they have become too soft.


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Debby, I actually did read about a study being conducted and some of the soldiers had issues that others were well aware of such as alcohol and marital problems or a history of drug abuse. I read that 20 percent of our soldiers suffer from depression and that anti-depressants are given to soldiers, even those on the battlefield. Anti-depressants have been linked to suicide, so you have to wonder about the correlation. Soldier suicide rates exceeding civilian suicide rates hasn't happened since the Vietnam War.


Debby Bruck profile image

Debby Bruck 5 years ago

You now have our answer, DIY. The fact stands that anti-depressants cause deviant violent behavior. We live in an environment of depression, socio-economic depression, collapse of jobs, resources, educational system and hooked on drugs. The actual support needed, mostly lacking, may come from private sources and less from government programs. The good that comes from 'awareness' and examining this problem happens when families demand better care. The question now resides in the 'best approaches' to care for the long-term.

And, vietnamvet88 - I am with you on the transparency of the war. It has been totally missing in recent years. As for hardening the soldiers with cursing and other means, I think that only drives the human soul into depression, with emotional instability. The ways of the past may not be the ways of the future for 'human-kind.' As stated, the scars of war last forever. Using our brains to solve games of war may find better solutions. I certainly do not have the answers, but let us pray that someone does.


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Some great dialogue, both Debby and VV. And I'm with you, Debby. I hope for a time when there will be no need for war or for humans to kill other humans. There's so much about mental illness that we don't understand, I don't think we've even scratched the surface. I hope for a resolution to all this conflict, so we can bring all these men home to their families and they can try to mend their lives.


Debby Bruck profile image

Debby Bruck 5 years ago

Amen.


tsmog profile image

tsmog 5 years ago from Escondido, CA

Thank you both, DIY and Debby, for your research and sharing , , ,suicide has come out of the closet in the last decades, although it has been around longer. Sadly, Suicide is a coping mechanism as stated in both articles. Fueled by hopelessness, low self esteem, social forces, and a strong sense for escape it becomes an answer to an overwhelming problem or set of problems. I could talk more, yet may not be wise. Great work and I sense you each have big hearts , , , ,:)


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Tsmog, I think suicide has touched more people's lives than we realize, not just people in the military, but people from all walks of life. Sad to say, many bright, funny, articulate people have chosen it as an option when all else has seemed to fail and what a great loss for everyone that we weren't able to reach them before it was too late.


Harlan Colt profile image

Harlan Colt 5 years ago from the Rocky Mountains

Depression is a mental pain that seeps into physical pain within much of your whole body. I used to think suicide was a cowards way out and maybe it is, however, I have had depression (later in life) and I have a whole new viewpoint of understanding. And I don't mean... oh I lost my dog, I am depressed, I mean dark cloud over your head all day long for months at a time - feeling day in and day out that you are worthless and there is no hope for you - clinical depression. I never understood it until I experienced it.

Now I understand why someone might kill themselves, especially if they have an extreme case of depression, I think the key here is to educate people that it happens but that it can get better and you can be stronger afterward.

I also agree that the drugs they use are not always the answer. I was given some pills by my doctor. I went right home and "googled" them. It came back and said people who use these pills then stop, may experience suicidal tendencies. I tossed the pills in the garbage and never took them.

I love our soldiers and I stop everyone I see and thank them. I was one once myself. I wouldn't wish depression on anyone... well maybe the terrorists of the world. Perhaps they are already depressed and that's why they are terrorists. But I wouldn't wish it on decent people.

I agree with Vietnamvet68 - we have weakened our social-psyche to the point we don't know how to deal with real life anymore. When I was a kid, if you lost a dog, you buried it, shed a few tears, then got a new dog. And if the dog bit someone, you took him out and shot him - then got a dog that didn't bite. Today you have people who need psychiatric counciling to get over the death of a parakeet.

Certainly, I don't have the answers here, the issues are way over my head. I just have a short sighted opinion, but I know that. I wish our soldiers the best, and I hope we can do everything we can to help them.

They tell the marines they are not allowed to die without permission - perhaps there is the root of some solution in that logic. Bottom line is awareness is always the first step to any solution, and you have done a nice job on that in this hub.

- God Bless

- Harlan


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Harlan, Thanks for sharing your perspective with us. My family has been touched by depression as well and as you pointed out, it's no joke, but a serious condition that may lead people to think that suicide is the only option. I have a friend whose beautiful, talented 18 year old son took his own life after a fight with his mother...no warning The family was (and still is) devastated. Can you imagine how hard it would be to resist the temptation to commit suicide if you were in a place that wasn't your home, surrounded by people who weren't your family, and being asked to do things that all your life you had been told were morally wrong? I can't. No wonder the miltary started the "battle buddy" system. I don't think being in the military necessarily created the problems these young soldieres face, but they need to to have some strong coping skills before they ever enter the military to be able to live that lifestyle and many simply don't have them.


Harlan Colt profile image

Harlan Colt 5 years ago from the Rocky Mountains

What a sad story, if one of my kids did that I would be devastated for a very long time - years - one would never fully heal from it - just cope with it. We are definitely a more sensitive society than we were 50 years ago, it is good in some ways, but in other ways it appears to be fatal. I have no reply on this, I am at a loss.

- God bless

- Harlan


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

Excellent, excellent hub, P. I hope you don't mind but I am going to link my hub about depression and suicide to this one to bring the reader here.

I especially loved the point you make re: that there is no resiliancy--I find, as a mental health worker, that many people look at each problem as a crisis and there is no discernment between minor problems and major.

Just read the comment you wrote to Harlan Colt and I agree-when coping skills are weak there is sure to be problems ahead. It is so tragic and sad about your friend's son. How awful to have that happen after a fight. Life is such a weird mess, it seems, right now. So much 'hopelessness'.

Great write. Voted it up. Take care.


cathylynn99 profile image

cathylynn99 5 years ago from northeastern US

there's another national suicide hotline. this one has a special option for veterans: 1-800-273-talk. press 1 for veterans.


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Thanks for the number, Cathylynn.


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 4 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

As a post-script to this article, new reports say that suicide in the military is up 50%. This year alone (2012)there has been nearly one suicide per day and the number of deaths by suicide is still exceeding the number of combat deaths. Pray for our troops safe return and for kindness and understanding from both the families and commanders of our troops.

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