Sunday, May 24, 2009

Military Suicide Rate is High

The suicide rate among active duty military personnel is higher than in the general population. Last year, there were 140 such suicides. That is alarmingly high but the suicide rate among active duty military has always been high, in fact, the suicide rate among inactive veterans is higher than in the general population. This could suggest either that personnel who join the military are already more predisposed to suicide or that the active duty experience causes a change in the personnel that results in an increase in suicide rate and that this change is permanent for all or most of the personnel.

The military is struggling to reduce the incidence of suicide but is still not able to identify all of those at risk of or already contemplating suicide.

When I was in boot camp in San Diego in 1965, five recruits committed suicide and many more attempted it. I was in boot camp for 14 weeks. There were 80 recruits in my company at the start of training. Three of them had nervous breakdowns early on in the training and were discharged. A fourth was sent to a hospital for several weeks before restarting training shortly before my company graduated.

I've always thought that the military should have been able to identify during initial evaluations those people who were at greater risk of a mental breakdown and suicide. It was my impression that the military didn't really care. One night in boot camp while I was on guard duty one of the recruits from another company in my battalion pretended to commit suicide. He cut his wrist with a razor but it wasn't deep enough to do real harm. When the recruit was brought before the battalian duty officer, an older mustang officer, he chewed out the recruit. He told him that the next time he tried to commit suicide he had to cut deeper and cut his throat instead of his wrist at which point the duty officer swiped an object across the recruit's neck as if to cut his throat for him. The recruit fainted. That's how sensitive the military was to the issue when I was a recruit.

Surely, the military is more sensitive and more capable than they were 45 years ago but the statistics show that they are far from being adequately capable.

I suspect that some people think that men aren't made of the same tough stuff that they used to be made of and their weakness contributes to the high suicide rate. That wasn't true 45 years ago and I'm sure that is not true today.

1 comment:

Kansas Bob said...

My son served 4.5 years in the Army, served 2 year+ long tours in Iraq and got out a year ago.. he is a brave man and I am very proud of him.

Some of the stories he told me of the way that he was treated "stateside" after risking his life on the front battle lines of Ramadi and Fallujah were sickening. The military is an institution filled with pettiness and dishonor toward those who serve so bravely and honorably.

The truth of the matter is that officers and noncoms alike are not equipped mentally or emotionally to deal with issues like Post Traumatic Stress (i.e. shell shock) much less issues of suicide. They were not when I was in and they are not today.

Thx Joe for the opportunity to rant a bit :)