Department Of Defense Releases Suicide Report As The Military Looks To Reduce Suicides In Its Ranks

Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo
Patrice Sullivan, whose boyfriend, a Marine, died from suicide, helps to remove 5,000 small U.S. flags representing suicides of active and veteran members of the military line the National Mall, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, in an action by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), in Washington.

The Department of Defense released the first-ever Annual Suicide Report in an effort to better understand and reduce suicides by service members. 

In 2018, 541 service members took their own lives. Military suicide rates last year were consistent with those in 2016 and 2017, but higher overall across the last five years, said Karin Orvice, director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office.

“I am disheartened that the trends in the military, as in the civilian sector, are not going in the desired direction,” Orvice said.

While military suicide rates for active service and reserve service member are comparable to the U.S. adult population, Orvice said the rate for the National Guard was higher than the overall population.

Service members who died by suicide were primarily enlisted and men under the age of 30, according to the report.

The report also looked at suicide by military family members. In 2017, 186 military spouses and dependents took their lives — a rate comparable to the general U.S. population.

The Defense Department is committed to preventing suicides within the military community. It’s considering a number of prevention efforts, including access to mental health care during National Guard weekend drills, educational programs to teach life skills to young service members and increasing awareness of suicide risk factors.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday the military had the “means and resources” to try to deal with suicide in the ranks, but “it’s something we continue to wrestle with.”

Earlier this year, the Air Force had a mandatory “stand-down” day at every U.S. base in an effort to combat rising rates of suicide in the ranks.

The Veterans and Military Crisis Line provides 24/7 support for service members and their families. Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 to talk to someone.