health
1:48 pm
Mon November 22, 2010

Army Suicides This Year Already Surpass 2009 Total

The Department of Defense released suicide data for October on Friday, reporting 25 potential suicides. That brings the total number of suicides so far this year to 172, meaning we've already surpassed the overall total for 2009, according to the National Journal.

The leap in Army suicides comes despite a major effort to help soldiers deal with psychological problems. The New York Times reported in October that the suicide rate among active duty members is showing few signs of improvement.

Colonel [Chris] Philbrick said that more soldiers were seeking help for psychological problems than ever before — it was the leading reason for hospitalization in the military last year — but that the number needing help had also grown at a rapid pace, a natural consequence of nine years of combat deployments. So even though the Army now has 3,800 therapists and psychiatrists, two-thirds more than it did three years ago, there is still a significant shortage, he said.

The suicide rate among active-duty Army personnel has grown steadily since 2004. Last year, around this time, the suicide numbers had already surpassed the record-breaking level set in 2008.

The Army's own study into the issue found that suicide prevention alone is not the answer.  "Army leaders must take a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to address this risk," General Peter W. Chiarelli wrote in a forward to the report.

That's pretty much what University of Texas psychology professor Michael Telch said on the phone this afternoon. Telch is a leading expert on anxiety and principal investigator in a study on post-traumatic stress disorder.

"The bottom line is there's no one single cause" of suicides, Telch told KUT News. "We have to be better at identifying the various factors that contribute the risk to combat stress disorders, and with that suicides. The better we're able to identify what factors contribute, the better position we'll be in for developing early intervention programs to try to address some of these contributing factors and thus prevent these suicides from occurring."

Telch says soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have one stressor didn't really exist before: The internet. Having a constant line of communication back home is a blessing for many service members, but it can also be hard to deal with stress from home because they can't really do anything those problems while deployed.

The Army offers these suicide prevention resources for service members and their families.