BY ADELE SAMMARCO
It’s a subject few often address…unless they have been personally affected by it.
For decades, suicide in the military has been viewed as a stigmatized topic that was generally swept under the rug. That is until 2001, when the Department of Defense began keeping record of military personnel suicides.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), suicide is the eleventh most common cause of death in the United States. People may consider suicide when they are hopeless and cannot see any other solution to their problems. Often it is related to serious depression, alcohol or substance abuse, or a major stressful event.
In the past decade, there has been growing awareness and a number of counseling programs made available to men and women in uniform who may be experiencing some form of anxiety, depression or post traumatic stress.
Yet despite that support, as many as 349 service members committed suicide last year, according to the latest military statistics.
In 2012, the Pentagon reported 239 military deaths confirmed as suicides and yet another 110 being investigated as probable suicides.
The number of suicides in 2011 hit 301; there were 298 the year before.
The rise in the number of reported suicides in the military affects every branch of the service.
The Army has by far the highest number of suicides and probable suicides...182, up from 166 in 2011.
The Navy recorded 60 suicides in 2012 compared with 52 the year before, followed by the Air Force with 59 (up from 51) and the Marine Corps with 48 (up from 32).
Both the Army and Navy have focused on teaching troops how to bounce back from despair with the hope of helping soldiers cope with stress.
The non-profit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors or TAPS, which provides military grief support programs, reports at least eight to 10 cases of people seeking assistance every week for people dealing with the suicide of a service member.
Of those who contacted TAPS for counseling, the organization reported 18% were grieving a death by suicide.
The military is not the only organization dealing with suicide among its ranks.
Last year, 126 police officers across the country killed themselves, according to the National Study of Police Suicides by the non-profit Badge of Life.
The NIH says people who have the highest risk of suicide are white males, however women and teenagers are reported to have made more suicide attempts.
Therapy and prescription medicines can help most people who have suicidal thoughts. Treating mental illness and substance abuse can also reduce the risk of suicide. However, those left behind in the wake of suicide say one life lost is one too many and demand the stigma associated with mental illness be lifted with more awareness and advocacy. Mental health advisers say there needs to be more focus on attention to prevention, positive reinforcement and the hope of resiliency.
If someone talks about suicide, take it seriously. Urge them to get help from their doctor or the emergency room, or call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for help.