Last week the Department of Defense released their inaugural report on deaths by suicide from within the active duty military community.
“The first ever Annual Suicide Report presents the most recent suicide data for our service members and their families, serving as the official source of data this year and in the future years to come,” Director of of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office Dr. Karen Orvis said.
In total there were 541 service members who died by suicide in 2018. Of those, 325 were from the active component and 216 from the Reserve component.
The active component is considered the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force, while the Reserve component is not only the reserve units for those four, but the Army and Air National Guard as well.
“Across all of our populations, active component, Reserve and National Guard, the 2018 suicide rate is statistically consistent over the past two years,” Dr. Elizabeth Van Winkle, Director of the office of Force Resiliency said. “However, rates for the active component are statistically higher that rates from the last five years. We are not going in the right direction.”
Compared to civilians, the suicide rates for active component and reserve members are on par with deaths by suicide for the U.S. population after adjusting for age and sex according to Van Winkle.
However, she said that the National Guard has higher rates after making the same adjustments. The suicide rate for the National Guard was 30.6 suicides per 100,000 members.
The deaths by suicide numbers for the individual services during 2018 were as follows: Army 139, Marine Corps 58, Navy 68, and the Air Force with 60 for a total of 325.
The Reserves had a total of 81 with the Army having 48, Marine Corps 19, Navy 11 and the Air Force with three. The Army National Guard had 118 deaths by suicide and the Air National Guard had 17.
In a statement released by the Marine Corps, Gen. David H. Berger, Commandant of the Marine Corps said: “We all have a role in suicide prevention individual service members, unit leaders, families and mental health professionals . . . Marines must also be comfortable discussing life’s struggles, mental wellness and suicide. We must create a community where seeking help and assistance are simply normal, important decisions Marines and Sailors make.”
Information related to military family suicides was also included in this year’s report. Unlike the active duty and Reserve components of the report, the data used is based off of 2017 numbers, the most current data available.
“For our family members, that is calendar year 2017 because our civilian data follows the CDC’s same time-frame in terms of releasing data and their most recent data is available as calendar year 2017,” Orvis said.
There were 186 reported suicide deaths among military spouses and dependents. There were 123 military spouses and 63 dependents who took their own lives in 2017.
Almost 50 percent of the dependents were 18 years of age or older and of the ones under 18, 62 percent were between the ages of 15 and 17.
“This is the first time we’ve released this data, so we do not have trends, but our military families are one of our greatest assets and our efforts need to consider the unique challenges of military life,” Van Winkle said.
This DOD’s Annual Suicide Report comes one week after the Veterans Affairs released the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.
At that time, the VA announced that the information collected from the three groups used in the veteran suicide report would be split into three different ones – veterans, current service members and former National Guard or Reserve members who were never federally activated.
According the VA, the change was needed because the three groups are unique and do not all qualify for the same services and benefits, therefor the outreach requires different strategies.