Military Suicides

Tragically once again the suicide rate among U.S. Army soldiers increased last month. In fact, Army suicides are up significantly over the previous month, and they are now on a record pace for the year.

The numbers are staggering. This year the Army reports there have been 82 confirmed or suspected suicides. Last year the Army reported a total of 133 suicides. More than 1.65 million service members have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since September 11, 2001. More than 300,000 have suffered psychological wounds from the hidden injuries of war due to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and combat stress. Often the impact from these injuries is not felt until after a serviceman returns home.

This past January the Army implemented an effort to deal with the growing number of suicides. This includes the creation of a suicide prevention task force and more counselors. Counselors are spending more time closer to the fighting front to make it easier for soldiers to open up about their experiences. All troops leaving combat are screened for signs of depression, and another round of screening is conducted three to six months after soldiers return home. Still, a majority of the suicides occur after soldiers have returned home.

In July 2007 "The National Suicide Prevention Hotline" changed their greeting to include a special message for soldiers. When calling "1-800-273-TALK" callers will hear, "If you are a U.S. military veteran, or are calling about one, press 1 now." Calls are then routed to agents at the Veterans Affairs call center in Canandaigua, New York, or one of five sub-network centers. This past April veterans calling Lifeline represented 20 per cent of total calls, and that number is growing.

The Mental Health Association of New York City is one of many organizations working to help veterans who are having problems reintegrating into their community. The MHA-NYC is developing a Veteran's Mental Health Coalition in New York City to help veterans deal with depression, thoughts of suicide or other forms of mental illness.

Anyone can suffer from depression, a feeling of hopelessness, grief or lack of energy. The sooner a veteran gets treatment, the sooner the veteran will feel better. Regretfully, there is still a stigma attached to mental illness, but attitudes are quickly changing through education and increased awareness.

The good news is help is only a phone call away: 1-800-273-TALK.