Friday saw the release of some somber news for the U.S. Army, with a report from the Defense Suicide Prevention Office detailing that the rates of suicide deaths among soldiers in 2021 were at their highest since before World War II. The total number of suicide deaths was also the highest seen in 20 years. 

In 2021, there were 176 confirmed or pending suicide deaths in the active-duty component of the Army. That’s a slight increase from the 174 confirmed suicide deaths in 2020, when the service saw a worrisome spike in incidents. In 2019 that number was 145. 

Measured against the total active-duty end strength of 486,490 troops, the rate of suicide deaths in 2021 was 36.18 per 100,000 soldiers, Army Times reported. It’s the highest rate since 1938, according to a 2019 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association analyzing Army suicide rates from 1819 to 2017.

On the Army Reserve and National Guard side, the reserve component saw 45 suicide deaths in 2021, a slight increase from the year before. There were 101 suicide deaths in the National Guard last year, four fewer than in 2020. The rate of suicide deaths in the Army Reserve was 24.4 per 100,000 and 29.92 per 100,000 in the Army National Guard. 

The numbers are a grim reminder of the enduring importance of mental health resources for service members and veterans. 

A study released last year by Brown University’s Cost of War project estimated that 30,177 active duty service members and veterans have died by suicide since 2001. In 2020, the suicide rate for service members aged 18-24 was more than double that for civilians in the same age bracket. 

In lieu of official resources, some soldiers have turned to social media when struggling with thoughts of self-harm. On Reddit, the R/Army page and its moderators, both active duty service members and veterans, have served as an unofficial hub filling in the gaps in the military’s mental health care system. 

The Army’s dedicated suicide prevention regulation was first announced in 2020. Initially scheduled to be published last fall, a release from the Army in November 2021 stated it was expected to publish in the first quarter of 2022. 

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.

What’s new on Task & Purpose

Want to write for Task & Purpose? Click here. Or check out the latest stories on our homepage.