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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Army: 83 suicides in 2005, 67 in 2004

The news splashed across our television screens and our newspapers today: the Army reported its suicide rate figures yesterday. Although our armed forces have been increasingly working to ensure their troops receive mental health/stress support, the rate has still inched upwards to levels not seen since 1993. The data is heartrending.

If you're having trouble coping and are contemplating suicide, please get help.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From the Associated Press:

In 2005, a total of 83 soldiers committed suicide, compared with 67 in 2004, and 60 in 2003 — the year U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq. Four other deaths in 2005 are being investigated as possible suicides but have not yet been confirmed. The totals include active duty Army soldiers and deployed National Guard and Reserve troops.

“Although we are not alarmed by the slight increase, we do take suicide prevention very seriously,” said Army spokesman Col. Joseph Curtin. “We have increased the number of combat stress teams, increased suicide prevention and training, and we are working very aggressively to change the culture so that soldiers feel comfortable coming forward with their personal problems in a culture where historically admitting mental health issues was frowned upon.”

Although the Army may not be alarmed, any military family member who has to go through this certainly is. Even one loss is too many. Although the suicide rate is not at an all-time high, the fact that it's creeping up even in the face of targeted measures implemented to stem the tide should be alarming -- even to the Army.
The suicide rate for the Army has fluctuated over the past 25 years, from a high of 15.8 per 100,000 in 1985 to a low of 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001. Last year it was nearly 13 per 100,000.

The Army recorded 90 suicides in 1993, with a suicide rate of 14.2 per 100,000. The Army rate is higher than the civilian suicide rate for 2003, which was 10.8 per 100,000, according to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the Army number tracked closely with the rate for civilians aged 18-34, which was 12.19 per 100,000 in 2003.

In the summer of 2002 a series of murder-suicides took place in quick succession at Fort Bragg after the base returned from Afghanistan; the incidents received much publicity at the time (and can be found as the first entries in the PTSD Timeline). Then, in the summer of 2003, there was an alarming increase in suicides in Iraq.

Since then, the Army has increased the number of mental health professionals and placed combat stress teams with units. According to the Army, there are more than 230 mental health practitioners working in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared with “about a handful” when the war began, Curtin said. Soldiers also get cards and booklets that outline suicide warning signs and how to get help.

But at least one veterans group says it’s not enough.

“These numbers should be a wake-up call on the mental health impact of this war,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “One in three soldiers will come back with post traumatic stress disorder or comparable mental health issues, or depression and severe anxiety.”

Rieckhoff, who was a platoon leader in Iraq, said soldiers there face increased stress because they are often deployed to the warfront several times, they are fighting urban combat and their enemy blends in with the population, making it more difficult to tell friend from foe. “You don’t get much time to rest and with the increased insurgency, your chances of getting killed or wounded are growing,” he said. “The Army is trying harder, but they’ve got an incredibly long way to go.”

He added that while there are more psychiatrists, the soldiers are still in a war zone, “so you’re just putting your finger in the dam.”

If you'd like to learn more about suicide, take a look at the Center for Disease Control's Suicide: Fact Sheet.

Important info from the American Association of Suiciology:


Be Aware of the Warning Signs

Are you or someone you love at risk of suicide? Get the facts and take appropriate action. Get help immediately by contacting a mental health professional or calling 1-800-273-8255 for a referral should you witness, hear, or see anyone exhibiting any one or more of the following:

  • Someone threatening to hurt or kill him/herself, or talking of wanting to hurt or kill him/herself.
  • Someone looking for ways to kill him/herself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means.
  • Someone talking or writing about death, dying or suicide, when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person.
Seek help as soon as possible by contacting a mental health professional or calling 1-800-273-8255 for a referral should you witness, hear, or see someone you know exhibiting any one or more of the following:

  • Hopelessness
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Feeling trapped - like there's no way out
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and society
  • Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life
What To Do

Here are some ways to be helpful to someone who is threatening suicide:

  • Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
  • Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
  • Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
  • Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
  • Don’t dare him or her to do it.
  • Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.
  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
  • Take action. Remove means, such as guns or stockpiled pills.
  • Get help from persons or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
Be Aware of Feelings

Many people at some time in their lives think about completing suicide. Most decide to live because they eventually come to realize that the crisis is temporary and death is permanent. On other hand, people having a crisis sometimes perceive their dilemma as inescapable and feel an utter loss of control. These are some of the feelings and thoughts they experience:

  • Can’t stop the pain
  • Can’t think clearly
  • Can’t make decisions
  • Can’t sleep, eat or work
  • Can’t get out of depression
  • Can’t see a future without pain
  • Can’t see themselves as worthwhile
  • Can’t get someone’s attention
  • Can’t seem to get control
If you experience these feelings, get help!
If someone you know exhibits these symptoms, offer help!


  • A community mental health agency
  • A private therapist or counselor
  • A school counselor or psychologist
  • A family physician
  • A suicide prevention or crisis center

If you need immediate help, please get it:

Nat'l Veterans Foundation Help Line
1-888-777-4443 (M-F 9-9 Pacific)
Email help also available from NVF

Military OneSource - DOD contracted
1-800-342-9647 in USA (24/7)
1-800-3429-6477 outside of USA

NY/NJ Veterans VA Nurses Helpline

Gulf Coast VA Medical Center Hot Line

Suicide Hotlines

Suicide Help Online

Miles Foundation - Domestic Violence

National Coalition for Homeless Vets

Veterans of the Vietnam War

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