Thursday, March 12, 2009
Some Sad Stats
Corps Sees Dramatic Spike in Suicides
While the Army fights a high-profile battle against suicides, the Marine Corps is quietly upping its effort to combat the malaise following the worst year for suicides in more than a decade.
Forty-one Marines committed suicide in 2008 while another 146 tried but failed. If all had been successful, that's pretty close to an entire infantry company trying to take its own life.
"This is the highest rate of suicide since 1995 and reflects an unacceptable loss of life for the Marine Corps," Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos said in a recent Marine Administrative message. "Each and every Marine is critical to our Corps and our mission."
In response to its spiking suicide rate, the Army had called for a force-wide stand-down day in which suicide prevention training will take center stage.
The Corps, meanwhile, has directed all Marines to participate in a service-wide training sometime this month.
"We are actively engaged in prevention measures and early identification of problems that may increase the risk of suicide. Leaders at all levels are concerned about the increase in the number of suicides," the Corps' chief suicide prevention officer, Navy Cmdr. Aaron Werbel, said in a prepared statement forwarded to Military.com.
The Army numbers are staggering: 138 suicides last year and possibly up to 42 in the first two months of 2009 pending investigations.
The Marine Corps numbers are not as harrowing, but show the time away from the range is warranted.
The number of suicides in the Corps increased for the second straight year in 2008, and for the first time since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began the majority of those who killed themselves had served downrange.
"While this may simply be due to increasing proportions of total Marines with a history of deployment, further investigations into possible relationships between these factors are ongoing," Werbel said. "Analyses to date have not demonstrated any actionable findings between suicide and deployment history."
The number of Marines who killed themselves while serving in a combat zone tied the previous high set in 2004 at seven.
And it's happening across the Corps.
Only two of the 41 suicides were females, but the trend cut across other barriers. Fifteen noncommissioned officers and two officers took their own life.
The majority of suicides were gun-shot wounds, but 12 Marines hung themselves last year. Most were white, but two black and four Hispanic Marines also committed suicide.
For the first time since 2001, the number of suicides in the Corps is roughly equal to the average among civilians at 19 per 100,000.
Marines, however, are far more efficient at killing themselves. For every three Marines that attempt suicide, one proves successful while the number is at least eight to one for civilians.
The recent spike is especially troubling for the Corps after it experienced a steady decline in suicides from 1997 to 2006. Three years ago, the Corps saw a suicide rate of roughly 14 per 100,000.
That was during some of the fiercest fighting Marines had experience in decades as the Corps struggled with insurgents and terrorists in Iraq's Anbar province.
The last three months of 2006 alone saw 288 American troops killed in Iraq, according to online statistics.
Today, Iraq is preparing for a drawdown of American troops and the Army has more soldiers killing themselves than dying in combat. The Corps is implementing updated training hoping it doesn't follow the same path.
Part of the required training is a slide show that educates Marines on the warning signs of suicide and how to look out for their fellow leathernecks.
Werbel said many of the factors leading to suicide are uniform across the services: problems in romantic relationships, physical health, performance and job dissatisfaction, and pending legal or administrative action.
All Marine commanders ranked colonel and above are required to produce an instructional video to be shown to their commands alongside the Corps-provided slide show.
Werbel acknowledged that refreshing the Corps' suicide prevention training and partnering with outside organizations with expertise in combating suicide might not be the quick fix some hope to see.
"Suicide prevention does not lend itself to a quick or easy solution," he said. "There is no single answer or action for suicide prevention."
March 11, 2009
Military.comby Bryan Mitchell
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Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Military One Source 1-800-342-9647
Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline - 1-800-984-8523
National Suicide Hotline - 1-800-SUICIDE