Suicide and deployment: two words that seem to go hand in hand with too many American soldiers nowadays. What seems like a well-known fact might be misleading, though.
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According to the Department of Defense Suicide Event Report for 2011, nearly 53 percent of those who died by suicide in the military in 2011 had no history of deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. That’s a staggering number when a common thought is that military suicides are often the result of soldiers struggling from post traumatic stress disorder upon returning from deployment to war.
“And nearly 85 percent of military members who took their lives had no direct combat history, meaning they may have been deployed but not seen action,” continued a December 2012 article by PBS’ Frontline.
The irony of it all is that according to Dr. Elspeth Ritchie — previously the Army’s top psychiatrist and now the chief clinical officer for the District of Columbia’s mental health department — more deployments might be a big contributing factor to the problem.
Ritchie found that bases that suffered the most suicides tended to be those where the units were deploying rapidly, she told PBS. It wasn’t because of more combat, but rather that upon returning from combat, soldiers were less able to connect with new recruits thanks to today’s wars, unlike in the past. Commanders have less time to get to know their troops, and don’t spot potential problems with them in time.
“These sergeants will tell me, ‘We’re moving so fast, I don’t have time, I don’t know my men and women,’” Ritchie said. “The sergeants who in the past took care of the new kids are so busy preparing for the next (deployment), there just isn’t the same sense of cohesion that we used to have.”
The soldiers not deployed then feel disconnected and “without a sense of purpose,” which is one of the risk factors for suicide, according to Ritchie.
The numbers also show a high rate of suicide from soldiers not even on active duty. In 2012 in the U.S. Army, 113 confirmed suicides came from active-duty soldiers, and 97 confirmed suicides came from soldiers not on active duty, according to a release from the U.S. Department of Defense.
The brotherhood service to the country creates amongst soldiers is one of the greatest bonds in human nature. We hope the military can find a solution to a very tragic problem that today is spiraling out of control.
It’s trying, apparently. The military has launched a $50 million study of mental health — the largest it has ever done — to better understand the risks and factors that lead to suicide, to be completed in 2014, according to PBS. It’s also spending about $17 million on a team of researchers to come up with solutions unique to the military.
We hope the investment is worthwhile. If there was something to spend money on, it’s keeping our soldiers safe, and for many, that starts well before they are at war.