Marine Suicides Reach Highest Level In A Decade Despite End Of Large-Scale Combat Operations

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Photo by Cpl. Sarah Cherry.

Every Marine who takes his or her own life is more than a number, but the numbers tell a distressing story: the Marine Corps is losing the battle against suicide.

A total of 75 Marines killed themselves in 2018: 57 active-duty Marines and 18 Marines in the Selected Reserves, according to data the Marine Corps provided to Task & Purpose. As CNN first reported, 2018 saw the highest number of active-duty Marine suicides since 2009.


Of the active-duty Marines who took their own lives, 44 deaths were confirmed suicides while the remaining 13 are suspected as suicide pending notification from the Armed Forces Examiners System, the Corps data says. The suicide data for reserve component Marines does not include Individual Ready Reserve Marines, separated ore retired Marines, or attached sailors.

By comparison, 43 active-duty and 10 Reserve suicides were reported in 2017, according to the Marine Corps data. In 2009, the number of active-duty Marine suicides was 52. No Reserve suicides were recorded for that year.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller has devoted significant attention to curbing suicides. In a Jan. 25 message to the Corps, Neller called suicide a "growing problem" and issued a personal appeal for Marines struggling with mental health issues, stress, and pain to seek help.

"We will be there for you," Neller wrote. "Consider the lasting impact on your family, friends, and unit – none of whom will ever truly recover. Don't choose a permanent solution to a temporary problem that can be resolved with the help of your teammates. While there is no dishonor in coming up short or needing help, there is no honor in quitting.

"MARINES NEVER QUIT ON EACH OTHER! For those who are struggling...our Marine Corps, our families, and our Nation need you; we can't afford to lose you."

At the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, suicides were widely viewed as linked to multiple combat tours, but the waning of combat operations has not seen a significant decrease in the number of Marines who kill themselves.

In 2016, Neller told Marine Corps Times that the Corps was looking into the reasons why an increasing number of Marines who hadn't seen combat were taking their own lives.

"Is it physical fitness? Is it their intelligence level? Is it their relationship? Is it money? Is it shame? Is it pride?" Neller said at the time. "Yes: It's everything."

SEE ALSO: It's Time For Us To Have A Real Conversation About Suicide In America

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Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

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Yet we recognize that as we grew as leaders over time, we often failed to challenge or even question this culture. It took decades for us to recognize that our individual successes came despite this culture and the damage it caused us and the women who follow in our footsteps. The easier course has always been to tolerate insulting, discriminatory, and harmful behavior toward women veterans and service members and to cling to the idea that 'a few bad apples' do not reflect the attitudes of the whole.

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