By Laura Vasquez, Program Evaluator, U.S. Army Public Health CommandMay 30, 2014
With the surge of U.S. military suicides following a decade at war, many of us have heard stories of a struggling Soldier or news reports of Soldier suicides. In fact, in 2012, the number of Soldiers who died from suicide exceeded the number of Soldiers who died in combat. June is Men's Health Month and an opportunity to focus on our male Soldiers.
Suicide is a special concern for male Soldiers because men comprise the overwhelming majority of the force, and men are four times more likely to die from suicide than women.
Why are men more likely to die from suicide?
Men are much more likely to die from suicide, even though women attempt suicide more often. Men often choose more lethal methods or have access to firearms, are less likely to seek help or social support, may show fewer warning signs to others and may exhibit symptoms of emotional distress via anger instead of sadness, masking their intentions.
Why is suicide a special concern for male Soldiers?
Studies have shown that male veterans under the age of 30 are three times more likely to die from suicide than civilian males in the same age bracket. The risk factors for Soldier suicides mirror the risk factors for suicides in the civilian population, yet Soldiers face unique stressors that can increase their suicide risk such as deployments, potential loss of rank and pay, or the inherent hardships of being a junior enlisted Soldier. Combat exposure is a risk factor for behavioral health issues that may increase a Soldier's suicide risk. However, like civilians, Soldiers can experience suicidal thoughts or actions without any exposure to combat.
Soldiers are often concerned that seeking help or taking medication will affect their careers. In 2008, the Secretary of Defense successfully advocated for Soldiers to seek behavioral health treatment related to familial or occupational stressors, without jeopardizing their career, just as they would seek help for physical health conditions.
What else can influence suicidal thoughts or actions?
Family or interpersonal issues, such as break ups of significant relationships, financial problems, family history or behavioral health disorders can lead to suicidal thoughts. It's important to remember that there does not need to be a specific triggering event to experience suicidal thoughts, and suicidal thoughts or high-risk behavior should always be taken seriously.
How can I help?
Suicide prevention is a high priority for the U.S. Army. The Army has made efforts, such as the Army's suicide stand-down event, to reduce suicides. Participating in initiatives like this can help in the fight against suicide. However, the war against Soldier suicide is far from over, and suicides can be prevented at all levels, starting with individuals who are closest to the person struggling. Individuals like you can help by educating yourself about suicide prevention and learning the warning signs to take action.
What are the warning signs of suicide?
•Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
•Discussing plans for suicide
•Feelings of hopelessness, desperation and shame
•Thoughts of being trapped or a burden to others
•Intense emotional suffering
•Emotional numbing or loss of interest in pleasurable activities Social withdrawal and isolation from family, friends or team
•Sudden relationship changes
•Access to lethal means like firearms
Suicide is a preventable cause of death
Most individuals who are suicidal give clues to people around them without ever reporting their symptoms to a healthcare provider. Picking up on warning signs and getting someone help can save a life. If you know of a service member or an individual in a crisis, call 911, escort them immediately to the nearest emergency room, or contact your chaplain or behavioral health provider. You may also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK) 24 hours a day.