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Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.
Essays and Blogs Concerning Mental and Emotional Health

Army suicide rate is climbing rapidly

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Sep 10th 2008

green plastic toy army menI saw this the other night and thought it useful to repost it so that more can understand the magnitude of the problem.  The article is titled "Army suicide rate could top nation's this year", and it appears on the CNN website. 

Essentially, conditions in the American military are so bad right now for soldiers, mental health-wise (as a consequence of post-traumatic stress (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), the fatiguing effect of multiple repeated tours of duty, financial stress at home, etc.) that they are committing suicide at near record rates.  A quote from the article makes the point: 

The rate of suicides among-active duty soldiers is on pace to surpass both last year's numbers and the rate of suicide in the general U.S. population for the first time since the Vietnam war, according to U.S. Army officials.

As of August, 62 Army soldiers have committed suicide, and 31 cases of possible suicide remain under investigation, according to Army statistics. Last year, the Army recorded 115 suicides among its ranks, which was also higher than the previous year.

Army officials said that if the trend continues this year, it will pass the nation's suicide rate of 19.5 people per 100,000, a 2005 figure considered the most recent by the government.

It is interesting to note that most of the time, the rate of suicide in the military (or the Army, at least) is lower than the civilian suicide rate.  I expect, however, that military entrance screening proceedures catch those most likely to kill themselves and exclude such individuals from serving.  While the rise in Army suicides most likely is explained as a reflection of the extremely difficult conditions that serving soldiers face, it may also be the case that as meeting recruitment goals has become more difficult, the army has altered their recruitment standards so as to be more welcoming to emotionally troubled people.  If anyone has knowledge about how best to intepret these findings, please do leave a comment to help the rest of us understand.  

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. was Director of Mental Help Net from 1999 to 2011. Presently, he is an Oakland Psychologist (Lic#PSY25695) in private practice offering evidence-based acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and addressing a range of life problems. Contact Dr. Dombeck by calling 510-900-5123, send Dr. Dombeck email or visit Dr. Dombeck's practice website for more information.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Just a thought - Caren - Mar 5th 2010

When I joined the military more than 10 years ago the recruitment standards were higher. While I read the initial comment and the clarification there still seems to be some level of support for the lowering standards. Maybe it is the word choice used. The first responder was on point.

In my professional and personal opinion (being a disabled veteran (3rd generation), professor, professional and mother of a veteran) the standards should be raised higher. Make it harder to gain entrance into the Military which is a lifestyle that is rigorous, stressful and rewarding. Go back to requiring a diploma, no and's if's or but's, go back to drill sergeants, go back to rigorous training, add DOD schools on the installations rather than community schools, keep high Family focus, maintain [and increase where needed] Military support services on the installation, hold civilian agencies providing support to the Military to the same high standards with regular QC activities, and so on. The lowering of standards has happened. We can see in our communities what the impact of lowering standards (i.e. education, health care, media, etc.) has done.  The Military should maintain high standards even if the community it supports (and is often surrounded by) lowers theirs.

Why do we, in general, continue lowering standards and expecting better results to come out of it? That is not a logical, educated nor an ethical thought process. This current thinking could be the defining of the word "insanity" (doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results).

 

 

Possibly - - Sep 18th 2008

How could it not at least to some degree?

Lower recruitment standards contributing to military suicide rates? - Roman General - Sep 15th 2008

Are you kidding me? When I read the question of whether lower recruitment standards were contributing to higher military suicide rates, I immediately wanted to react negatively and harshly. But I had to think about where it came from and I had to deduce that it was from ignorance of military life and the nature of combat. The military way of life provides strong attachments through a communal approach to every aspect of interactions between soldiers and their families. Whether through a support network for the spouse of a soldier to help one another or to the training of our troops. This interconnectedness brings a sense of herdness into the human fold centered around the soldier. Developing and enveloping the individual perspectives while opening them to a cohesive togetherness usually not felt before enlisting. I am describing the level of bonding that occurs on a military post before a war has been brought into the picture. Now add in a military conflagration and this level of interpersonal commitment and associations have become welded to each others identity. Bonding through blood and battle takes the soldier to a whole new level of raw humanism forged through survival and fight or flight defensive mechanisms. The psychology of killing alters the terrain of the mind disabling the rational machinery and enabling the ancient reflexive responsive unconscious. When combat takes away the soldier who has became the centerpiece of an intimate community it breaks down. Whether he has been buried or she has become a prisoner of her own mind; war fractures the body, mind, spirit and the community that once knew cohesion. The troops who do make it out of the theater of combat have been changed in body and mind. They have lost substantial parts of their mind, soul and community. Psychological trauma devastates the battle buddy, spouse, children and splinters everything that once was the bedrock of the out American Soldier. Add it all up and what do you think the equation equals? http://ptsdasoldiersperspective.blogspot.com/

Editor's Note: I should clarify.  By "lower recruitment standards" I meant to suggest an increased intake of people who, for various reasons, might be more prone to conditions that would increase the likelihood of suicide and nothing more.  When I worked at the VA for a year in the middle 90s doing PTSD work, I saw that some of the men we were attempting to help had long histories of abuse and some had mental illness problems that preceeded their military service.  This sort of background could not have helped them cope with the stresses of military service.  

If I read it correctly, your comment suggests that the natural stresses of combat can make any surviving soldier at increased risk for suicide (or some other significant issue such as PTSD) and this is of course entirely correct.  it is not necessary to have entered the military with a pre-existing vulnerability to develop PTSD or to end up suicidal.  Where I was coming from is that, if a pre-existing condition does exist, however, my sense is that it can make a condition like PTSD more likely.  

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