By Alexandra Hemmerly-BrownSeptember 9, 2010
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 9, 2010) -- While active-duty Army suicides are trending downward, reserve-component suicides appear to be on the rise -- a fact that worries leaders as the Army observes Suicide Prevention Month.
"We're seeing a really disturbing increase in reserve-component suicides," said Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, vice chief of staff of the Army at a Pentagon Army leader's forum. "I don't totally understand it, but we're working hard to try and get at it."
According to a recently-released study, more Soldiers died in fiscal year 2009 as a result of high-risk behavior than in combat. The Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, and Suicide Prevention report was a 15-month study by the Army's Suicide Prevention Task Force on understanding the increasing rate of suicides among troops.
The report found a rise in high-risk behavior throughout the Army, an increase in prescription antidepressants, amphetamines and narcotics, and a boom in Soldiers seeking behavioral-health care.
The total number of suspected suicides across the Army in fiscal year 2009 was 239 with 1,713 known attempts. At press time, the current number of potential suicides in 2010 stands at 169 -- nine less active-duty deaths than during the same period last year.
Also, for the second year, the Army suicide rate has surpassed the national average with about 22 per 100,000 versus 19 per 100,000 across America.
"Suicide prevention is much more than thwarting that last final act of desperation," wrote Col. Chris Philbrick, the director of the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force in a press release. "It is increasing awareness and education in order to preclude members of the Army Family from ever getting to the point where suicide might be considered an alternative to asking for help."
The Army is engaged in a suicide-prevention campaign called "Shoulder to Shoulder: I will never quit on life." Part of the campaign is a new 15-minute training video which features candid interviews of Soldiers and Family members who have battled with suicide.
The Army has also partnered with the National Institute of Mental Health in a five-year, $50-million research program to better understand why Soldiers are ending their lives.
Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire, the provost marshal general of the Army -- who was responsible last year for heading up the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force -- noted that suicide is not just an Army problem: about 32,000 people in the U.S. commit suicide each year, the third leading cause of death.
While Army leaders and mental-health professionals haven't been able to pinpoint exactly why suicide rates have spiked dramatically since 2001, McGuire said much of the cause may lie in nearly 10 years of war and transitional stress.
Transitions, such as re-locating to a new unit and base, deploying, coming home from deployments and the breakdown of relationships are all life changes that are hard on Soldiers, she said.
"Transitions are huge on individuals," echoed Chiarelli, who added that a Soldier in his or her first year in the Army is more likely to commit suicide than at any time.
In fact, 79 percent of Soldiers who commit suicide have either never deployed or been on only one deployment, Chiarelli said.
However, McGuire sees the decrease in active-duty suicides as a success, and links the push in suicide-prevention training and awareness to the downshift in numbers.
"I think all of it is helping ... the professional products, the emphasis on leadership, the resources that are available, the entire campaign has had an effect," she said.
McGuire said she would like all leaders to put an emphasis on Soldier accountability and focus on the basics of leadership.
"Soldiers need to understand that they are responsible for themselves and they need to abide by Army values and integrate them fully in everything they do," McGuire said.
She urged troops to take extra time to know their fellow Soldiers personally and be vigilant for the signs and symptoms of depression and suicide.
"If we truly are living by the warrior ethos, we really will look after each other," McGuire said. "We can't look after each other if we aren't also looking after ourselves. If we find that we need help, we need to seek it."
(Editor's note: If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255))