By Ian Kempf

*This post contains content pertaining to suicide. If you are experiencing thoughts or feelings of suicide, call the suicide prevention line at https://988lifeline.org/.

When someone enlists into the military, they are faced with a myriad of challenges and hardships along the way. Many are able to handle the stressors, but for some it’s a much more difficult obstacle to overcome. Military suicide rates have been on the rise for the past decade, leading to many active-duty service members and Veterans alike to lose their battle against mental health issues. It has even been found that military suicide rates are four times higher than deaths resulting from military operations.

But why have military suicide rates been on the rise, and why haven’t they shown any signs of regressing? What kind of measures can the various military branches take to combat this problem? Let’s take a look.

The Growing Suicide Rates in the Military

Since 2011, military suicide rates have been steadily increasing. The reasons for this have been complex, rather than being just a few singular issues. Much like civilians, military personnel can face many mental health struggles that become too big an obstacle to overcome. Difficult subject matters such as familial issues, relationship problems, economic/financial difficulties, and workplace struggles are among some of the causes for the rising suicide rates in the military.

While many mental health obstacles that affect military personnel are similar to those in the civilian world, there are also many hardships affecting active-duty service members and Veterans that are exclusively tied to their time serving.

For those who served in the long wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, there have been documented irreversible difficulties for service members and Veterans after they come back to the states. The trauma of the events these service members have witnessed during their deployment have left them traumatized and struggling to adapt to a life with PTSD. It has become an epidemic, and the problem only seems to be growing larger with every couple of years.

Military Suicide Rates vs Civilian Suicide Rates

As mentioned earlier, many of the leading causes for military suicide rates are the same stressors that cause those in the civilian world to commit suicide. This begs the question: How similar are the suicide rates of civilians compared to military personnel?

In 2022, the number of people who had committed suicide in the United States was 49,000. In 2023, that number reached higher than 50,000 victims. This is the highest number in a single year that the United States has ever seen for deaths caused by suicide. The leading causes for those who have committed suicide or felt compelled to commit suicide have been:

  • Worthlessness
  • Feeling that life is not worth living
  • Intense shame or guilt
  • Not fitting in to their particular place in life
  • Intense physical or emotional pain
  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Relationship trauma
  • Losing a loved one
  • PTSD
  • Financial issues

While these are commonly seen as triggers in the civilian world, they are just as likely to affect active-duty service members or Veterans as well. Compared to the plus 50,000 civilian casualties as a result of suicide in 2023, 94 service members had committed suicide in the first quarter of the year.

Suicide rates in the military are much lower than those in the civilian world, which may be part of the reason why they seem to be ignored by those in higher positions of office within the military branches. This lower number does not excuse the military from letting Veterans and active duty personnel suffer in silence.

Implementing Changes to Lower Military Suicide Rates

This issue cannot continue to grow and fester. There needs to be a complete overhaul to the system so that the men and women who gave their time to protect this country can be given peace and deliverance from the mental health struggles that plague them.

The Defense Department has attempted to resolve the issue in a few different ways. The Veteran Crisis Line was introduced to connect Veterans and active duty service members with a trained professional to work through any feelings of trauma and depression that the caller is experiencing.

Embracing a sense of community can be the life and death difference for someone who is struggling. Fostering a sense of understanding around the topic within the military’s culture is paramount to helping those who just need a helping hand to pull them out of their dark place. Standing by their brothers and sisters in solidarity who are struggling to find ways to cope is a great way to bring awareness to this troubling issue.

MilitaryOneSource is also an amazing resource to combat suicide rates in the military. It exists as a platform for military personnel of all walks of life to come and receive help for any issues that they are dealing with. They also can get service members connected to a trained counselor who will walk with you through your struggles and help you come out the other end with a new outlook on life.

Finishing the Fight

Suicide is a difficult topic for many people to talk about openly, and so it make sense why it has become an evolving issue within the military, which is known for championing strength and not showing any signs of weakness.

The resources to combat military suicide rates are more plentiful than ever, and our society as a whole has become more aware of the dangers of neglecting mental health needs. With all of these elements together, there is much potential to see these numbers start to decline, but only with diligence and hard work.

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