The Mental Health Minute

Articles and news about mental health issues

Army identifies issues that lead to suicides

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Having worked in Killeen as a psychiatric nurse, I am naturally appalled by the current rash of suicides by Army personnel there.  I found this article in the Killeen Daily Herald and was interested enough to read it through to see what the Army is planning to do for these people who are deployed over and over and over again.

At first, I am amazed that the Pentagon and the Army can’t figure out why the soldiers are becoming suicidal.  To me, that should be a “no-brainer”.  The troops are tired and frustrated and have their lives on hold while there is a war going on.  That is enough to set the stage for suicide in most people.

The flip side of the coin, though, is that there is also a rash of homicidal acitivity coming from this same group of people.  These young men and women are trained to be killers, they are submerged over and over in an arena where they have to be killers, and then they come home with no chance to change gears and are expected to interact according to the rules of this society.  No wonder there is a growing problem.

Please read this entire article and leave your thoughts and comments either at the Killeen Daily Herald site or here, won’t you?

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By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Killeen Daily Herald

Army officials admit there are gaps in how they identify and address high-risk soldiers.

The number of soldiers engaging in high-risk behavior is increasing at an alarming rate, according to a recent Army study, and leaders are equally concerned with the rising numbers of suicides among soldiers. At-risk behavior is often the biggest indicator that soldiers will try or succeed in ending their own lives.

The 2010 Health Promotion Risk Reduction Suicide Prevention Report was released in August, and it said the Army has “lost its former situational awareness and understanding of good order and discipline within its ranks” because of the impact and pace that comes with nine years of war.

Army officials have identified the myriad of issues that lead to suicides and are now trying to enact recommendations and conclusions presented in the 300-plus page report.

The issues created range from medical issues like drug and alcohol abuse and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to the “lost art” of leadership and failures to properly report criminal behavior in the ranks and refer soldiers to get the help they need.

At Fort Hood, those failures translate to 14 confirmed soldier suicides and six suspected cases in 2010. The latest came last weekend as four Fort Hood soldiers — Pvt. Antonio Eduardo Heath, Sgt. Timothy Ryan Rinella, Master Sgt. Baldemar Gonzales and Sgt. Michael Timothy Franklin — took their own lives.

That meant a record-high number of suicides at Fort Hood with two months left in the calendar year. There were 14 confirmed cases in 2008 — the highest number recorded.

The Army’s suicide rates have always been significantly lower than the civilian rates, according to the 2010 report. That began to shift in 2004. Four years later, the Army suicide rate outnumbered the national average.

The civilian rate is about 19.2 of 100,000. In 2008, the Army’s rate was 20.2 of 100,000.

In 2009, 160 active-duty soldiers took their own lives, according to the report.

At Fort Hood that same year, 11 soldiers took their own lives.

Suicide was the third-leading cause of death among soldiers in 2009, and when including accidental death, which researchers found was often the result of high-risk behavior, it was discovered that fewer died in combat than by their own hands, according to the report.

“Simply stated,” it read. “We are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy.”

Studying cases

Fort Hood leaders carefully examine each suspected case through fatality review boards, led by Maj. Gen. William Grimsley, the post’s senior commander.

They take almost intrusive looks into these soldiers’ lives, he said last week at Fort Hood, and identify factors that led to each of the final decisions.

Each case differs, and Grimsley and other Army leaders have said there wasn’t a simple answer to the issue.

“Every suicide is as different and as unique as the people themselves,” Gen. Pete Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff said in July 2009 testimony to the House Armed Services Committee. “And, the reality is there is no one reason a person decides to commit suicide.”

In 2009, there were 306 high-risk deaths in the Army, according to the report. Suicides totaled 160, 87 were accidental and “undetermined fatalities stemming from high-risk behavior” and 59 were murder.

Data collected by the Army showed that of soldiers who committed suicides in 2009:

89 percent were active-component.

23 was the mode age.

76.7 percent were Caucasian.

58.3 percent were junior enlisted.

96.9 percent were male.

48.5 percent were married.

23.9 percent were in the infantry.

68.7 percent deployed one or more times.

According to the report, of the 2009 active-duty Army:

77 percent were active-component.

23 was the average age.

62.7 percent were Caucasian.

45.5 percent were junior enlisted.

86.6 percent were male.

58 percent were married.

13.2 percent were in the infantry.

70.9 percent deployed one or more times.

For more on this story, including how Fort Hood’s suicide numbers for 2010 compare and contrast to the Army report’s, read next week’s Herald.

Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at astair@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7547. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary or www.facebook.com/astairrett.

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October 5, 2010 - Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , , , ,

5 Comments »

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    Pingback by Army Releases November Suicide Data | Fallen But Not Forgotten | December 18, 2010 | Reply

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