According to yesterday’s U.S. Army press release, up to 20 active-duty soldiers committed suicide during the month of October. The army includes confirmed suicides and cases of death in which suicide is suspected in its total. October’s numbers are slightly higher than the numbers for the previous month, during which 15 active-duty members of the army are suspected to have committed suicide.
So far this year, 166 active-duty soldiers may have committed suicide. If all 166 cases are confirmed, then the number has already surpassed last year’s total of 165 confirmed active-duty army suicides. The news indicates that the army’s long-running struggle with suicide is tragically escalating.
Earlier this year, the army attempted to combat the epidemic through the use of social media outlets like Facebook to reach out to army members. They’ve also created an app aimed at army members who have contemplated suicide. The app, according to its creator Dr. Nigel Bush, “has the photos, it might have sound messages from loved ones, it might have videos of family trips and so on.”
More conventional strategies like presentations, which the army has also utilized, have been criticized. One Dartmouth professor and expert on suicide told NPR earlier this year, “They call this kind of training ‘death by PowerPoint’…what they might not be as informed about are some individual strategies that they can take to maybe cope better with the situation at hand.” According to the New York Times, “nearly half of all suicides in the military having been committed with privately owned firearms.” Strategies like encouraging “friends and families of potentially suicidal service members to safely store or voluntarily remove personal firearms from their homes” have also been suggested.
TIME magazine detailed the rise of suicides in the army in August:
“Suicides have spiked since 2005, even as the war in Iraq has ended, and the conflict in Afghanistan begins to wind down. The drip-drip-drip of statistics tells the story: mental-health problems were the top reason troops were hospitalized last year, according to a May Pentagon report. Nearly 22,000 troops were hospitalized with mental disorders last year, 54% more than in 2007.”
Earlier this year, a high-ranking army official wrote, “Suicide is the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the Army.” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has described suicide in the army as “one of the most frustrating problems.”