Suicide in the Military

Suicide in the Military

According to the World Health Organization, almost one million people die by suicide every year, which is a global mortality rate of 10.7 per 100,000. In the United States (U.S.), someone attempts suicide every 31 seconds and an average of 1 person dies by suicide every 11.9 minutes, a rate of 13.3 per 100,000. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the country. An important consideration is that suicides have consistently been underreported for a variety of reasons. Experts have estimated that suicide incidence may be 10-15% higher than officially recorded.

The U.S. military reflects an important subset of the U.S. population with both shared and unique characteristics when compared to the U.S. population. Historically, military suicide rates have been lower than those rates found in the general population. Rising suicide rates among Service members and Veterans over the past decade have raised public and professional concerns. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. military. According to the calendar year 2015 Department of Defense Suicide Event Report (DoDSER) annual report, the standardized suicide rate was 20.2 per 100,000 for the Active component. For the Selected Reserves component, the rates were 24.7 per 100,000 for the Reserves and 27.1 per 100,000 for the National Guard.

A number of psychosocial factors are associated with suicide risk. The most common individual stressors identified for both military suicide decedents and military suicide attempts were relationship problems, administrative/legal issues and workplace difficulties. Other medical conditions that are associated with an increased risk for suicide include traumatic brain injury (TBI), chronic pain, and sleep disorders. These conditions can contribute substantially to increased suicide risk in affected individuals. The most common method for suicide in the DoD is firearms, accounting for over 60 percent of all suicide deaths in the military.

Elevated suicide risk has been shown to endure well beyond military service, with Veterans carrying a much greater risk for suicide than their civilian counterparts. According to the Office of Suicide Prevention (2016), Veterans account for approximately 18% of all adult suicide deaths in the U.S. Interestingly, Veterans represent only 8.5% of the U.S. population, highlighting the disproportionate number of suicide deaths in this population. This means that approximately 20 Veterans die each day by suicide. Like Service members, the most common method for suicide among U.S. Veterans is firearms, accounting for over two-thirds of all Veteran suicides.

With the significant increased suicide rates in our military population, it is imperative that we provide evidence-based psychotherapies developed specifically to target suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Cognitive Therapy for Suicide Prevention (CT-SP) is an evidence-based treatment recommended by the VA/DOD Clinical Practice Guideline for the Assessment and Management of Patient’s at Risk for Suicide (2013). CT-SP is a structured, time-limited, present-focused approach that helps patients develop coping skills and strategies to overcome suicidal crises.

For a brief description of CT-SP, click here. CDP offers two-day training workshops in the assessment, prevention and treatment of suicidal thoughts and behavior using both in-person and live online formats. Click Upcoming Training Events to view future training opportunities and to learn how to how to register for a training event.