Between 2005 and 2010, one service member died approximately every 36 hours, not as a result of actions by Afghanistan or Iraq insurgents, training exercises, or automobile accidents—but from suicide.
In 2009 alone, 160 active duty military personnel took their lives, making suicide the third leading cause of death among the Army population (Army Health Promotion/Risk Reduction/Suicide Prevention Report, 2010).
Many categorize military suicide as the unseen enemy of war. By definition, suicide is fatal, and in some cases, it can be attributed to a mental health condition, such as depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), alcoholism, or drug abuse.
In military settings, a cultural stigma is attached to seeking mental health care. According to the US Department of Defense, 43 percent of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who took their lives in 2010 did not seek help from a military treatment facility in the month before their deaths.
As more troops return home from deployment, the risk of suicide may grow. It is important that families of these service members become aware of the issue and learn to identify potential risk factors and warning signs associated with suicide. Remember, as a caregiver, the more you know, the more you are likely to provide the immediate attention and care your service member needs.
Several factors may influence a service member to attempt to commit suicide. As a military caregiver, being aware of risk factors associated with suicide is essential. These risk factors include the following issues:
If you notice significant changes after your warrior returns home from war, he or she may be exhibiting signs of potential suicide. The following warning signs may indicate that your service member is suicidal:
As a military caregiver, it can be hard to admit to yourself that your service member may be displaying signs of suicide. However, suicide has increased dramatically since the start of the Global War on Terrorism, leaving many service members at risk for suicide ideation and/or attempt.
In addition to identifying risk factors and warning signs, there are 14 strategies you can use to help your service member and yourself get through this difficult time.
If your service member is experiencing thoughts of suicide or exhibiting warning signs, take action immediately. Call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for immediate assistance, or visit the Veterans Crisis Line website. The Veterans Crisis Line is available for both veterans and active duty service members.
For support groups and caregiver support services, contact your local Army installation’s Soldier and Family Assistance Center (SFAC).
For more information on suicide within the military, visit the Army Suicide Prevention Program. The program offers a variety of information and resources relating to suicide to improve readiness for service members and their families.
Consider participating in Applied Suicide Intervention Training (ASIST), a workshop for caregivers who want to feel confident and competent in their ability to help prevent the immediate risk of suicide.
Harrel, M., & Berglass, N. (2011). Policy Brief: Losing the Battle—The Challenge of Military Suicide. Center for a New American Security, 1-12.
Jakupcak, M., & Varra E.A. (2011). Treating Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans with PTSD who are at high risk for suicide. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 18, 85-97.
Kang, H. (2009). Analysis of VA Health Care Utilization among US Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) Veterans. Unpublished report, VHA Office of Public Health and Environmental Hazards.
Kang, H.K., & Bullman, T.A. (2008). Risk of suicide among US veterans after returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan War zones. Journal of the American Medical Association, 300, 652-653.
Suicide Facts for Primary Care Providers: Helping Service Members and Families Overcome Barriers to Care. Retrieved March 6, 2012, from Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.
US Army. 2010. Army Health Promotion Risk Reduction Suicide Prevention Report. Retrieved March 6, 2012.