For decades now the military has had a problem with suicide. The stigma of going to seek out mental health is something many want to avoid. Then there’s the stress of not being able to get a quick appointment. Not to mention the pressure from leadership to just buckle down and keep quiet because someone is afraid seeing mental health will be a black eye for the unit on reports.
Between 2020 and 2021, the Air Force, Marine Corps, and the Navy all saw their suicide rates decline across the board. Reserve and National Guard components saw similar rates to previous years, even with a surge in members due to people leaving active Duty. The Army however saw a slight increase.
This increase in suicide indicates that they are far behind other services, and the way mental health is treated needs to change. The latest data for 2021 indicates 176 suicides in 2021, up from 174 in 2020. That number was 145 just the year before. In statistical comparison, the Air Force fared much better, going from 82 to 51 between 2020 and 2021. These suicides were largely from the 20 to 40 demographics across all branches.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a statement after the report was issued. “We also continue efforts to improve the quality of life for service members and their families, address stigma as a barrier to seeking help, and expand our safety efforts for our service members and their families. While we have made progress in these areas, we must continue to do more.”
Per Military.com, there was little correlation between suicides and returning from combat, but experts have cautioned leaders and civilians from reading into that data. Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness spoke with Daily Caller News Foundation about these stats.
“This is a difficult subject to address because every data point on each of the graphs represents a human tragedy, and there is no way to know why a person takes their own life. One variable that ought to be questioned is the impact of the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan,” said Donnelly. She cited reports of numerous Veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who have been left wondering “whether their sacrifices were worth it.”
Along with the stress and struggles that accompany deployments and field exercises, there are logistical problems across the entire branch. Reports of substandard housing with moldy barracks, units operating out of tolerance, and dangerous equipment make it difficult to achieve success. Add in pay that doesn’t leave much beyond the absolute basics, and people begin to get on edge very easily.
For women especially, that stress goes up even further. Following the devastating murder of a soldier at Fort Hood in 2020, numerous cases of sexual assault, rape, and coverups were made public. Given the nature of these crimes and the frequency of their occurrence, their panic becomes incredibly understandable.
In 2021, the Army saw a 25.6% increase in reported incidents over 2020. The Navy was next with a 9.2% increase. Given the large disparity in force size, this increase for the Army becomes even more disturbing. It also sheds some additional light on the dramatic decrease in recruiting success in the last year.
With the Army failing to meet the grade and coming up 15,000 recruits short, or 25% of their expected numbers, it’s a sign that the culture is changing. People are learning the dark secrets the military has kept hidden for ages, and commanders are lost about how to fix the issue. Big Army keeps throwing money at it and hoping to fix the issue. Even though it hasn’t done anything so far. Perhaps it’s time to start evaluating their officers by new metrics and advancing enlisted members based on real metrics. Not just running fast or doing out-of-date correspondence courses. It might just fix the damn problem.