More Guard, Reserve Soldiers Are Committing Suicide
- By Spencer Ackerman
- January 19, 2011 |
- 12:52 pm |
Citizen soldiers are killing themselves at record rates, the Army announced on Wednesday. Last year, 145 Army Reservists and National Guardsmen committed suicide, compared with 65 suicide deaths across the entire Guard and Reserves in 2009. Worse, Army leaders aren’t entirely sure what’s caused the increase.
Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s deputy chief of staff and its point person on suicide prevention, told reporters at the Pentagon that there were 343 suicides amongst active and reserve soldiers, Army civilians and family members last year. The number of active-duty suicides in 2010, 156, declined by 6 from 2009, indicating what Chiarelli called the “modest success” of Army suicide-prevention efforts. But 101 Guardsmen took their lives last year, an increase of 53 from 2009, as did 44 reservists, an increase of 12.
The stress rates don’t appear to be linked to going to war, though. About half of National Guardsmen who committed suicide last year never deployed, said Maj. Gen. Raymond Carpenter, the acting head of the National Guard; fewer than half of Army Reservists did, according to Reserve chief Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz.
In the aggregate, the economy is another x-factor. While Chiarelli said that the Employer Support to the Guard and Reserve had to help identify links between persistent unemployment and self-destructive behavior, only about 15 percent of National Guardsmen who committed suicide in 2010 didn’t have a job.
As best as the three generals can determine, romantic troubles are a high contributing factor to the reservist suicide increase. But none were willing to attribute the rise to any single factor. “If you think you know the one thing that causes people to commit suicide, please let us know, because we don’t,” Chiarelli said.
Access to suicide-prevention efforts for non-active duty soldiers remains a problem. The fact that reservists only spend a small portion of their time outside of call-up on Army bases or with their units means that they can’t always get access to the suite of services the Army’s set up for dealing with emotional stress. Not all know about the online Comprehensive Soldier Fitness exam that seeks to build what Chiarelli calls “resilience” from emotional difficulty. All three generals pledged to push reservist commanders and senior enlisted officers to check in on their units more often and called on community groups and family members to help recognize and combat the warning signs of suicide especially the abuse of prescription drugs.
The military has noticed a recent spike in prescription drug usage in both troops and their families, particularly for anti-anxiety and depression medication. It’s also experimented with a variety of post-traumatic stress relievers, from yoga and “bioenergy” to online counseling. A new “virtual PTSD experience” based in Second Life launched just today. While not all post-traumatic stress is combat stress, the apparent lack of a link between deployments and reservist suicide rates call into question whether tools like those are what citizen-soldiers need to overcome their hardships.
Chiarelli said a key focus for the Army active and reserve would be to remove any stigma surrounding mental health treatment. He noted that 35,000 Americans are estimated to have committed suicide in 2010, meaning the Army accounts for less than 1 percent of last year’s suicide deaths.
Image: U.S. Army