Suicide rates among Army soldiers and veterans are on the rise, and a record number of suicides occurred in the month of June with 32 soldiers – including 21 on active duty – taking their own lives. The U.S. Army has developed an aggressive intervention program to help alleviate the problem, including a 20-minute training video called “Shoulder to Shoulder – I Will Never Quit on Life.”
The increased stress soldiers have been facing from multiple tours in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan have made it difficult for the Army to handle the problem. In 2009, 163 active-duty soldiers and 82 members of the National Guard committed suicide.
The Marines have also been struggling with an alarming increase in suicide rates among active and veteran soldiers. In 2009, suicide claimed the lives of 100 Marines and Sailors. The U.S. Air Force had 41 suicides during the same year.
One of the biggest problems with increasing levels of support is in identifying reserve and guard soldiers who are not actively deployed but who are high risk. Services, including mental health counseling and support, are available, but it’s difficult to get those suffering to come forward. Soldiers on active duty will be easier to help, since their commanding officers can be trained to be aware of the signs of depression and suicidal tendencies.
Col. Chris Philbrick, director of the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force, said in a statement: “There will never be a substitute for a noncommissioned officer, first-line supervisor or friend who knows when a person is suffering and has the moral courage to act and get that individual the help they need. That ability to make a positive difference is the best method to render effective suicide prevention in the Army.”
A pilot project has been developed by the Army to provide counseling services for entire battalions after they return from war zone deployment in an effort to stop the crisis. The Army medical staff is also being directed to be more aggressive in identifying mild brain injuries that may lead to a higher risk of mental health complications.
Shadra Bruce is a contributing writer for Mental Health News.