As suicide continues within our ranks, you may think that it is an Army problem. But with deliberate, reasoned thought, coupled with intensive study of the phenomenon of suicide, the real answer is “no.”
Suicide is not an Army problem. Suicide is not even an American societal problem. Suicide is a worldwide problem. In any given year, globally, more people die from suicide than die by direct armed conflict, acts of terrorism and homicide combined.
The solution, however, is a community issue. As an Army Family – brothers and sisters in arms, as caring parents, concerned spouses, engaged leaders and alert battle buddies – we have the ability to reduce the incidence of suicide. Suicide is not a fatal disease. No one needs to die by suicide.
Calendar year 2016 ended with 280 Soldiers from all Army component – active duty, National Guard and Reserve – succumbing to suicide. Seven of those fallen Soldiers bore the patch of the Screaming Eagle.
Between 2005 and 2012, the number of suicide deaths in the Army surpassed the year before, with the exception of 2010 which had a minimal decrease. The trend slowly shown signs of decreasing in 2013 through 2015.
Although the stress of combat, the real and potential threat of injury and the prolonged separation from Family and friends may contribute to thoughts of suicide, the fact is, 27 percent of Soldiers who commit suicide have never deployed. Additionally, about 55 percent of Soldiers in the National Guard and Army Reserve who commit suicides have never deployed.
According to the Army, the most stress inducing time for a Soldier and his or her Family members is during periods of transition. Transitions include permanent change of station, end of service, temporary duty en route, and intra-post transfers. In addition to the stress associated with the move, there is the stress of arriving at a new unit where leadership is often unaware of particular personal challenges like medical issues, legal problems, marital strife.
What our military community needs to do to combat the stress of transition is to become more aware of what stress looks like. Once we can observe the signs of stress in our coworkers, Family members and battle buddies, we must be courageous enough to engage that individual. It is easy to identify an individual with a physical injury, but the injuries that are caused by stress are often invisible. We all have the innate ability to detect when someone is depressed, has anxiety, is suffering from sleep deprivation, is abusing alcohol or has difficulties with anger management, yet not all of us are willing to lend assistance.
It is important for everyone to engage and take the time to listen. You may be all the difference someone needs to reach out for help. One person can make a difference.
Editor’s note: Next week read about the warning signs of suicide.