According to a new report from the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, the number of suicides among active-duty military personnel has increased in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022. The report reveals that there has been a 25% rise in military suicides, with the number increasing from 75 in the first quarter of 2022 to 94 in the first quarter of 2023. This marks the highest number of active-duty suicides in the military since the second quarter of 2021, when 97 were reported. Last year, a total of 519 service members died by suicide, with young, enlisted male service members found to be the most at risk.
The report further indicates that in 2020, there were 582 suicides among military members, with a 9.1% increase in the suicide rate among active-duty service members. The Army had the largest increase in suicide deaths, with the numbers rising from 37 in 2022 to 49 in 2023. Among the other branches of the military, suicides in the Marine Corps increased from 8 to 14, while the Air Force Active Component saw one additional suicide year on year. The Navy’s active personnel suicide deaths remained the same, and the Space Force Active Component has recorded no suicide deaths to date. In terms of reserve troops and the National Guard, the report found that suicide numbers remained unchanged.
The report emphasizes that while the data is preliminary and subject to change as more cases are reported and investigated, it provides an alarmingly high number of military suicides. It is crucial to investigate these cases and conduct statistical analyses to understand the long-term trends. The Pentagon states that it is too early to determine whether suicide rates will increase or decrease for the rest of the year.
In response to the report, an Army spokesperson stated that officials are still waiting for the suicide prevention policy and are working urgently but deliberately to complete this effort. The Pentagon has been actively looking for ways to prevent the rising number of suicides among military personnel in the past decade. In February, its Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee recommended gun restrictions for soldiers under the age of 25, as well as implementing waiting periods for gun and ammunition purchases. These measures aim to slow down access to means of suicide.
While the report focuses on active-duty military personnel, it is important to note that the issue of veteran suicide rates cannot be overlooked. On average, nearly 17 former U.S. troops take their own lives every day, according to government data. However, experts have warned that suicide rates among military veterans are likely more than double those reported by the government. The Department of Veterans Affairs does not account for what is known as “Self-Injury Mortality (SIM),” primarily attributed to overdose deaths.
In an effort to address the mental health support needs of service members, the Pentagon signed the Brandon Act in May. This legislation aims to facilitate access to mental health care, evaluations, and other services in a confidential manner. The act was named after Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Caserta, who died by suicide in 2018. It was signed into law by President Joe Biden in December 2021. The Department of Defense stated that service members worldwide have access to a range of mental health and wellness support, including referral options for mental health evaluations and various online resources such as the 988 Veterans Crisis Line, Military OneSource nonmedical counseling, and the 24/7 Psychological Health Resource Center.
Despite the availability of resources, conversations about military suicides are still scarce among military members, likely due to the social stigma associated with seeking help. However, the nature of their work often puts service members at an increased risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder. It is crucial to address this stigma and provide effective support for mental health within the military.
U.S. Army veteran Jonah Nelson, who served in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, highlighted the impact of traumatic experiences on military members’ mental health. He mentioned having to extract human remains from bombed-out vehicles and expressed that these experiences are often not openly discussed. Nelson emphasized that military officials currently lack a reliable method of effectively addressing the mental health needs of service members.
In conclusion, the recent Pentagon report highlights a concerning increase in suicides among active-duty military personnel in the first quarter of 2023. The report emphasizes the need for further investigation and statistical analysis to understand long-term trends. Efforts to prevent military suicides include gun restrictions, waiting periods for gun and ammunition purchases, and the implementation of the Brandon Act to facilitate access to mental health care services. However, addressing the stigma surrounding mental health and providing effective support remains a significant challenge within the military.