Army releases February suicide data; updates prevention efforts
March 5, 2009
The Army today released suicide data for February and provided an update on its Suicide Prevention program, reporting that two Soldiers committed suicide in February, and 16 cases of death are pending a determination.
"Soldiers and Families are our most important asset, and the loss of any Soldier to suicide is tragic and incomprehensible," said Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. "Army leadership is working to better understand the causes of the troubling rise in Soldier suicides and is taking swift action on widespread prevention measures."
In January, the Army reported seven suicides and 17 other deaths pending determination of cause of death. Since that time, investigators have ruled that five of the 17 pending cases were suicides. The remaining 12 cases are still being investigated.
Addressing the increase in the number of suicides is a top priority for the Army, which has taken a number of actions to emphasize the seriousness of the situation and the urgency for all levels of Army leadership to implement suicide prevention measures.
"We continue to do everything possible to create a high level of awareness and to remove the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health issues. We are committed to using every tool at our disposal, and finding new tools, to address suicide prevention," Chiarelli said.
Last month, the Army announced an Army-wide stand-down, from February 15 to March 15, 2009. The stand-down includes training for peer-level recognition of warning signs that may lead to suicidal behavior, and intervention at the buddy level. The stand-down will be followed by a chain-teaching program focused on suicide prevention, from March 15 to July 15, 2009.
In 2008, the Army reported there were 143 suicides, the highest number since the Army began keeping records in 1980. It was the fourth year in a row that the number of suicides increased despite efforts towards greater awareness and intervention. In January 2009, General Chiarelli was given the responsibility to oversee the integration of the Army's efforts to prevent suicides.
"As I dig into this problem, I am convinced that there is no single solution; reducing the number of suicides will require a multi-disciplinary approach," Chiarelli said. "Nevertheless, at the top of the list is training leaders at all levels to recognize the signs of depression and take the appropriate actions to get Soldiers the help they need."
The Army recently launched a $50 million, multi-year study on suicide and suicidal behavior among Soldiers in conjunction with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the federal government's National Institute of Health. It is the largest single study on the subject of suicide that NIMH has ever undertaken. Benefits of the study may lead to more effective interventions for both Soldiers and civilians. Every year, an average of 30,000 Americans die by suicide.
The Army also is implementing a Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program that will enhance Soldiers' resiliency and help Soldiers, Families, and civilians them thrive in an era of high operational tempo and persistent conflict.
"Nothing substitutes for informed leaders who take care of our Army's most precious asset, its Soldiers," Chiarelli said.
- 30 -