Army suicides usually decrease during wartime. New data shows that’s no longer the case

Soldiers with 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, walk in what could be mistaken for another planet. Kandahar, Afghanistan, Dec. 25, 2011 (Army photo/Sgt. Ruth Pagan)

(Reuters Health) - While army suicides have historically decreased during wartime, that trend appears to have reversed in recent decades, a new study of U.S. records finds.

Researchers poring over nearly 200 years of data found that unlike earlier times when there was a decline in suicide rates among U.S. Army soldiers during and just after wars, the rate has risen significantly since 2004, according to the report in JAMA Network Open.

The researchers can't explain the change - or the decline in previous eras during wartime - but they believe documenting the trends might lead to a better understanding of the underlying causes of military suicides.

"As a historian I would say it's impossible to solve the problem until you try to understand the history of it," said study leader Jeffrey Smith, chair and associate professor in the history department at the University of Hawaii, Hilo. "We're hoping that gaining an understanding of history will help us in the fight to reduce the tragedy of military suicide."

While the military suicide rate was markedly higher in the 1800s than today, it reached an all-time low just after World War II. "Then (it) remained at a low level until this period of open-ended wars," Smith said. "We're hoping in follow-up studies to parse out the chronic and acute factors that cause military suicide."

To learn more about historical trends in military suicides, Smith and his colleagues extracted data from U.S. Army Surgeon General reports and other government publications as well as medical journal articles published between 1840 and 2018.

Rates of suicide increased starting in 1843, peaking at 118.3 per 100,000 soldiers in 1883 (in a force of about 23,000 service members, the authors note). The rate then decreased in three successive waves, each corresponding with one of three wars: the Spanish American War (1898), World War I (1914 to 1918) and World War II (1939 to 1945).

The final years of WWII had the lowest rate of Army suicides, at 5 per 100,000 in 1944 and 1945. During the next few decades the rate was relatively stable, ranging from 10 to 15 per 100,000. It ticked up slightly at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, to 18 per 100,000 soldiers. Then the rate started increasing during the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, and from 2008 to the present, has ranged from 20.2 to 29.7 per 100,000. The peak of 29.7 was reached in 2012.

"It's interesting to note," Smith said, "the military didn't take much in the way of active measures to decrease the number of suicides until World War II."

The findings among military personnel mirror what's been happening in the general population, said Dr. Paul Nestadt, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, who wasn't involved in the study.

"In the general population there has been a 30% increase in suicide over the same last 17 years," Nestadt said.

One hopeful sign is that once the military began to focus on reducing suicides, the rates actually fell, Nestadt added. "It may mean that when we do try to address it, the rates may be reduced," he said.

SOURCE: and JAMA Network Open, online December 13, 2019.

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press "1" to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.

Roughly a dozen U.S. troops showing concussion-related symptoms are being medically evacuated from Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, a defense official told Task & Purpose on Tuesday.

Read More

In a Galaxy — err, I mean, on a military base far, far away, soldiers are standing in solidarity with galactic freedom fighters.

Sitting at the top of an Army press release from March 2019, regarding the East Africa Response Force's deployment to Gabon, the photo seems, at first glance, just like any other: Soldiers on the move.

But if you look closer at the top right, you'll find something spectacular: A Rebel Alliance flag.

Read More
The maiden flight of the first CMV-22B Osprey took place in Amarillo, Texas (Courtesy photo)

The first of the CMV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft the Navy plans on adopting as its carrier onboard delivery (COD) aircraft of choice has successfully completed its first flight operations, manufacturer Boeing announced on Tuesday.

Read More
A soldier plugs his ears during a live fire mission at Yakima Training Center. Photo: Capt. Leslie Reed/U.S. Army

Another 300 lawsuits against 3M flooded federal courts this month as more military veterans accuse the behemoth manufacturer of knowingly making defective earplugs that caused vets to lose hearing during combat in Iraq or Afghanistan or while training on U.S. military bases.

On another front, 3M also is fighting lawsuits related to a class of chemicals known as PFAS, with the state of Michigan filing a lawsuit last week against the Maplewood-based company.

To date, nearly 2,000 U.S. veterans from Minnesota to California and Texas have filed more than 1,000 lawsuits.

Read More

GENEVA (Reuters) - North Korea said on Tuesday it was no longer bound by commitments to halt nuclear and missile testing, blaming the United States' failure to meet a year-end deadline for nuclear talks and "brutal and inhumane" U.S. sanctions.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un set an end-December deadline for denuclearization talks with the United States and White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien said at the time the United States had opened channels of communication.

O'Brien said then he hoped Kim would follow through on denuclearization commitments he made at summits with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Read More