"As a leader and human being, I'm deeply saddened each time a soldier loses his or her life, but it is especially troubling when a soldier commits suicide. The culture of the Army is that of a team, and any time one of our own feels so lost that he or she sees no other option than to take their own life, we've failed as an organization." - General Peter Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff, United States Army
Unfortunately, I could not participate in yesterday's roundtable with General Peter Chiarelli (audio link here).
Suicide prevention is something that is very important. Long ago, I had a driver who's wife and unborn daughter were killed in a car accident. Understandably, he went off the deep end as any of us in the same situation would have. Luckily, he had us. After quite a few incidents and interventions (and narrowly avoiding losing our careers), he got better with time and with attention. I think most of us have stories like that. Sadly, we also have a story of failing to stop suicide, too.
We've discussed military suicides before, mostly in the context of the media taking an important story and turning it into an epidemic as a result of OIF and OEF or an anti-military piece.
This time, it's different. There's a problem and we need a prevention Surge.
Chuck Simmins was at the roundtable and has an excellent round up of the facts. Here are some key graphs:
The United States Army received some disturbing information about its soldiers in January and February 2009. In January, 12 soldiers committed suicide and another 12 cases are pending a final determination. In February, 2 soldiers committed suicide and 16 are pending a determination.
These deaths follow a difficult 2008, in which 138 soldiers committed suicide and two cases remain pending.
For the first time in many years, it appears that the suicide rate for soldiers exceeds that of civilians in the same age range and mix of sexes. Civilian numbers have a two year lag so the military’s 2008 numbers do not have a civilian equivalent.
In the civilian population in 2005, the suicide rate was 19.5 per 100,000. The Army’s 2008 rate was 20.5 per 100,000.
...General Chiarelli stated that the key to intervention with troubled soldiers is leadership. He stated that leadership was absolutely critical.
Chiarelli said that the appropriate action when a soldier is troubled is not a referral but to take that soldier for help. Lowering the suicide rate will require a multi-disciplinary approach, breaking down each profession’s individual silo and going at it as a team approach. The Army is focused on this and is doing everything to drive the suicide numbers down...
There's a lot more so go read the whole piece at the excellent America's North Shore Journal.
And here is a direct quote from General Chiarelli:
...it's important to know that there's no single solution to anything here. You know, I wandered into this believing that if we could get the individual to a mental health care provider, all would be good. Yet, when we look at our suicides in 2008, over 50 percent of them saw mental health care providers, yet still went forward with -- and committed suicide.
I really mean it when I say, the harder I look at this, this is multi-disciplinary, and there is no single solution to working through these issues. They are very, very complicated, and require a multi- disciplinary approach.
I think it's also interesting and instructive to -- to understand that if we look at the 2008 numbers and we break them down, we had about a third, a third, a third: a third that had no prior deployment experience, a third that were deployed when they committed suicide, and about a third that had deployment experience and were back home.
And even when you take that number, the rational person might think that the more deployments, the more likely you are to commit suicide; but we saw exactly the opposite.
A certain resiliency seems to grow in an individual who has multiple deployments, and we actually see the percentage of suicides for multiple deployers much smaller than for individuals who have had a single deployment.
So this is a very, very complicated issue. And we've got to get all the resources available for our soldiers, but there really is no single solution that's going to solve this...
General Chiarelli is to be commended for taking this head on. With his own experiences and knowledge and his love of soldiers, we wouldn't expect anything different.
You can get the Suicide Press Kit that has the numbers and some activities that the Army is undertaking here: Download SuicidePressKit.pdf