National Suicide Prevention Month

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Editor’s Note: Military members, veterans, and their families should know about one of the most important suicide prevention resources available to them-the Veterans Crisis Line, which can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. Call this number if you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal feelings.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and while this important time of observance and suicide awareness is not limited to veterans, active duty, National Guard, or Reservists, the military’s needs in this area cannot be overlooked.

Suicide in the Armed Forces has been a critical issue for as long as there have been branches of the military. Just how critical? The following numbers represent some of the most recent reports for suicide rates for the active duty military, Reserves, National Guard, and veterans:

The 2015 Department of Defense Suicide Event Report (DoDSER) stated that the suicide rates were about 25 per 100,000 for Reservists and about 27 per 100,000 for National Guard service members.
2016 suicide rates for individual branches of service were about 19 per 100,000 for the Air Force, about 27 per 100,000 for the Army, about 15 per 100,000 for the Navy, and about 21 per 100,000 for the Marine Corps.
According to a 2019 Congressional Research Service report titled “Recent Trends in Active-Duty Military Deaths,” between 2006 and 2018, 3,863 active duty service members ended their own lives. This is more than service members who were killed in action, (2.710), and service members who died by wounds received, (886), combined.
According to a 2016 report from the Office of Suicide Prevention, while veterans account for only 8.5% of the U.S. population, 18% of all adult suicides in the U.S. are veterans, or about 20 veteran suicides per day.
These numbers paint a sobering picture: Suicide is the second leading cause of death among service members, and one of the leading causes of death among veterans.

A History Of Recent Military Efforts To Combat Suicide In Military Communities
According to a presentation by Defense Suicide Prevention Office Acting Director Jacqueline Garrick, between 2001 and 2008, suicide deaths in active duty military service members increased from about 10 in 100 thousand people to about 16 in 100 thousand people.

In response to this increase, the Secretary of Defense initiated a Defense Health Board Task Force, which recommended the creation of a Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO). This office was established as part of the Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.

The mission was both simple and lofty: a mission-ready, suicide-free military community. DSPO sought to promote suicide prevention in military and veteran communities through policy, oversight, and engagement, and to create cultural change within these communities regarding mental health and wellness.

DSPO programs include suicide prevention, intervention, and post-vention through medical and non-medical resources, and collaboration with military services, government agencies, non-government agencies, non-profit organizations, and communities.

The DSPO was also tasked with several responsibilities:

To serve as the authoritative source for suicide data in the DoD
To evaluate the effectiveness and strategic integration of suicide prevention programs and research throughout DoD
To advocate for all suicide prevention efforts with internal and external partners
To serve as the primary originator and coordinator of suicide prevention policy throughout the DoD
Within a few years of the creation of the DSPO, the Air Force. Army, National Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, and VA all established suicide prevention programs.

Since its creation in 2011, the DoD Defense Suicide Prevention Office has worked alongside civilian organizations to raise awareness regarding suicide prevention. It has released annual reports detailing statistics on suicide among service members and veterans, held conferences for both service and civilian mental health professionals, maintained a social media presence, and offered easily accessed support for service members who struggle with suicidal thoughts.

The VA has also released reports on suicide rates among veterans and offered support for veterans who struggle with suicidal thoughts.

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