Army experts highlight findings, recommendations from 10 years of suicide studies
The demands of high operational tempo have taken a toll on the overall social and behavioral health of Service members. The military organizational unit structure can provide a safety net to Soldiers and their families – this means battle buddies and first-line supervisors need to look out for their fellow Soldiers. (U.S. Army photo illustration by Graham Snodgrass). (Photo Credit: Graham Snodgrass) VIEW ORIGINAL

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicides are a leading cause of death in the United States. Estimates indicate death by suicide occurs every 11 minutes. In addition, millions of others have either attempted suicide or had serious thoughts of suicide, known as suicidal ideations.

Suicide is also an important issue in the military. For more than a decade, the U.S. Army Public Health Center’s Division of Behavioral and Social Health Outcomes Practice has collected and analyzed surveillance data on suicides, suicide attempts and suicidal ideations. BSHOP has also conducted epidemiological consultations, known as EPICONS, to help expand understanding of the risk and protective factors that impact suicide among Soldiers.

Following are some of the themes reported in BSHOP’s annual suicide surveillance reports and a summary document titled A Decade of Behavioral Health EPICON Findings:

  • Relationship problems are one of the most common stressors reported by Service members, and lack of quality time with family, poor work-life balance, and physical separation from support systems further erode social resilience. Conversely, Service members who report greater resilience, unit cohesion, or social support are less likely to report suicidal ideation.
  • The demands of sustained high operational tempo have taken a toll on the overall social and behavioral health of Service members.
  • Alcohol misuse continues to be a problem across the Army; it contributes to behavioral health disorders, misconduct/crimes, suicidal thoughts and behavior, and non-readiness.
  • Though behavioral health stigma appears to have lessened over the last decade, Service members continue to report fears that engaging in behavioral healthcare will result in their being treated differently by their leadership or being perceived as weak.
  • Lack of quality sleep is the leading medically-documented risk factor for suicides among Soldiers. Soldiers with sleeping problems or diagnosed sleeping disorders should consider seeking medical and behavioral health care. Leaders can help by emphasizing the force multiplier benefits of good sleep, considering sleep quality impacts when scheduling activities, and assessing physical structural conditions.

“Being aware of warning signs, and providing immediate and direct support, can make all the difference in saving a life,” says Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bass, a clinical and forensic psychologist in the APHC’s BSHOP Division.

The military organizational unit structure can provide a safety net to Soldiers and their families that may not be available to the general population.

“It starts with battle buddies and first-line supervisors,” says Bass. “It’s important for leaders to know their Soldiers, establish relationships, and familiarize themselves with and encourage others to access local installation, embedded, and unit-organic behavioral health resources.”

Army Chaplains, Unit Ministry Teams, Unit Behavioral Health Officers, and Military and Family Life Counselors are readily available and work directly with Soldiers and unit leaders. In addition, community-based resources to include Army Community Service and online resources such as Military OneSource are directly accessible by Soldiers and family members.

Not sure where to go? Check out the Community Resource Guide for information about your local installation: https://crg.amedd.army.mil.

For clinical behavioral health care, contact your local Medical Treatment Facility. Find more information about the Military Health System through the Defense Health Agency at www.health.mil.

For immediate assistance, dial 988 to reach the suicide and crisis lifeline. Around the globe, you can reach 24/7 assistance through the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (see below).

If you, a friend, or a family member is experiencing a crisis—

  • Call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Dial 988 and press 1 for the Military Crisis Line.
  • Text to 838255.

• Visit the Military Crisis Line website for additional resources.

The U.S. Army Public Health Center focuses on promoting healthy people, communities, animals, and workplaces through the prevention of disease, injury, and disability of Soldiers, retirees, family members, veterans, Army civilian employees, and animals through population-based monitoring, investigations, and technical consultations.

NOTE: The mention of any non-federal entity and/or its products is for informational purposes only, and not to be construed or interpreted, in any manner, as federal endorsement of that non-federal entity or its products