MSRC News Details

MSRC's David Rudd quoted in "Military steps up preventive intervention after record high suicides"

Military steps up preventive intervention after record high suicides
JAN 23, 2013

With more active duty soldiers taking their own lives than losing their lives in combat in 2012, the U.S. Department of Defense is making military suicide prevention a top priority. The epidemic of suicides has reached record levels among active duty soldiers, according to statistics released by DOD.

The department has increased behavioral health care providers by 35 percent in the past three years, has undertaken the largest mental health study ever conducted for members of the military and is asking all leaders in the chain of command to focus on the needs, according to spokeswoman, Cynthia O. Smith.

“We are committed to taking care of our people, and that includes doing everything possible to prevent suicides in the military,” she said.

Stepped up intervention responds to the 349 military suicides in 2012, a 16 percent increase over the previous year. That's more American soldiers than the 295 who died in combat, according to recently released statistics from the U.S. Department of the Defense.

“We are deeply concerned about suicide in the military, which is one of the most urgent problems facing the department,” said Smith.

The Army experienced the highest number of recorded suicides in 2012 at 182, while the Navy, the Air Force and the Marine Corps had 60, 59 and 48 respectively.

Clinical psychologist David Rudd said he was not surprised by the numbers and expects to see another year or two of continued elevation in military suicides. Rudd is the dean of the College of Social of Behavioral Sciences at the University of Utah,

Many of the suicides occurred during home leave. Rudd said repeatedly deployed soldiers face enormous stress on transitioning in and out of civilian life. He cited frequent “re-immigration issues with family and community” as a major contributor to military suicides. Those who have not been deployed in the past year were also considered a high-risk group.

“The challenges are significant and overwhelming,” Rudd said, referencing financial and occupational issues as well as social and emotional problems.

However, Rudd said healing and improvement can be achieved with 3-4 years of cognitive-behavioral therapy treatment programs, such as the one he offers. Focusing solely on military suicide, Rudd has noticed a 70 percent reduction of suicidal behavior after six months of treatment involving talk therapy.

But talking is not always easy for members of the military. A recent veteran from Michigan, who asked to remain anonymous, said sharing your feelings in the military is often seen as a sign of weakness. The suicide statistics didn't surprise him, he said adding that he lost more members of his own infantry group to suicide than combat.

“You hope your buddies don’t take their lives,” he said, “But when its time to make that decision, there is no talking about it.”

The 29-year-old infantry veteran notes an inability for infantry soldiers to talk about their feelings and an incredible stigma associated with depression and anxiety in the military. “There is a clique system,” he said, “If you tell someone you want to kill yourself, you get out of your clique. Your friends avoid you because you showed weakness. They think, ‘he’s a loose cannon – don’t trust him.’”

The veteran describes his time in the infantry as being in a “guy’s guy world.” Filled with ridicule, labeling, and stigma, it is a tough place to be, he said. The veteran said that, once a solider starts to share his feelings, he can be flagged as a suicide risk. This means he isn’t allowed to go home to see his family and that fellow soldiers have to watch him at all hours. The soldier may be ridiculed, looked down upon and avoided by his fellow men.

“You just lost your cool spot,” he said

Despite the stigma attached to those with potentially suicidal thoughts, the veteran encourages soldiers to find the strength to talk to their friends. There are also 24-hot lines, military-specific therapy groups, and the Military Crisis number - 1-800 273-8255 - to rely on.

“There are tons of ways to get out” of the spiral into depression, the veteran said. He talked about not wanting to lose one more buddy to suicide.

Original Article