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Pentagon Annual Suicide Report

The following is the Sept. 25, 2019 report, Department of Defense (DoD) Annual Suicide Report (ASR).

From the report

Executive Summary

The Department of Defense (DoD) is committed to preventing suicide within the military. Over the past decade, the Department has made strides in establishing an infrastructure for preventing military suicide by aligning our strategy with the public health approach; establishing policy guidance and an enterprise-wide suicide prevention governance body; standardizing and advancing data surveillance, research, clinical interventions, and program evaluation; and partnering and engaging with other federal, non-profit, and private organizations. There is still much more work to be done. In October 2018, the Department established a requirement for a DoD Annual Suicide Report (ASR) to serve as the official source of annual suicide counts and unadjusted rates for the DoD and a means by which to increase transparency and accountability for DoD efforts towards the prevention of suicide. This requirement also mandates the reporting of data on suicide deaths among military family members. This first ever ASR presents recent suicide data on Service members and their families, provides an overview of the Department’s suicide prevention strategy and governance, and describes current and future initiatives underway to combat suicide in the DoD.

Key findings reported in this ASR include the following:

In Calendar Year (CY) 2018, there were 541 Service members who died by suicide. CY 2018 rates increased in the Active Component over the last five years, while remaining steady in the Reserve and National Guard during this same timeframe. However, suicide rates were consistent with rates from the past two years across all Components (Active, Reserve, and National Guard). From CY 2013 to 2018, the suicide rate for the Active Component increased from 18.5 to 24.8 suicides per 100,000 Service members. This increase was attributable to small increases in the number of suicide deaths across all Services. The suicide rates of the Reserve and National Guard remained steady across this same timeframe. The CY 2018 suicide rate for the Reserve, across Services and regardless of duty status, was 22.9 suicides per 100,000 Reservists. For the National Guard, the suicide rate, across Services and regardless of duty status, was 30.6 suicides per 100,000 members of the National Guard. For all Services and Components, CY 2018 suicide rates were consistent with CY 2017 and CY 2016 rates.

After accounting for age and sex, military suicide rates were roughly equal to rates in the U.S. population. The most recent suicide data available for the U.S. population is for CY 2017. In CY 2017, the suicide rate for the U.S. population, ages 17 to 59, was 18.2 deaths per 100,000 individuals. At face value, the suicide rate in the U.S. population appears to be lower than military rates for all Components. However, the composition of the military and U.S. population varies considerably by age and sex — two factors with strong associations with suicide risk. After controlling for differences in age and sex between these populations, CY 2018 suicide rates in the military were roughly equivalent to the U.S. population rates for all Components,
except the National Guard (PHCoE, 2019; DoD Suicide Event Report data).

Service members who died by suicide were primarily enlisted, less than 30 years of age, male, and died by firearm, regardless of Component. In CY 2018, the distribution of suicide deaths by demographic and military factors reflected the profile of the Total Force. Decedents were primarily enlisted, male, and less than 30 years of age, regardless of Component; this demographic makes up 46% of the military population, but about 60% of military suicide decedents. Specifically, the greatest proportion of suicide decedents were junior enlisted (E1-
E4: ranging from 46.8% to 60.5% of those who died by suicide across Components), less than 30 years old (ranging from 65.2% to 72.8% of those who died by suicide), and male (ranging from 90.1% to 93.5% of those who died by suicide), depending on Component (i.e., Active Component, Reserve, or National Guard). The majority of Service members died by firearm (ranging from 60.0% to 69.6% of those who died by suicide, across Components).

The Department estimates there were 186 reported suicide deaths among military spouses and dependents in CY 2017, the most recent data available on military family members. Suicide rates for military spouses and dependents were generally comparable to U.S. population rates after accounting for age and sex. For military spouses, the suicide rate in CY 2017 was 11.5 per 100,000 population. When examined by sex, the suicide rates for male and female spouses, between the ages of 18 and 60, were 29.4 and 9.1 per 100,000 population, respectively. These rates were comparable to the suicide rates for similar age (18 to 60 years) males and females in the U.S. general population (28.4 and 8.4 per 100,000 population, respectively). The overall suicide rate among military dependents (< 23 years of age) was 3.8 per 100,000 dependents. For male dependents, the suicide rate in CY 2017 was 5.2 per 100,000. This rate was less than the suicide rate for males (< 23 years) in the U.S. population (9.3 per 100,000). The suicide rate for female dependents of Service members was not reported due to low counts. The primary method of suicide death for both military spouses and dependents in CY 2017 was firearm.

Current and Future Departmental Efforts

The Department is strongly committed to preventing suicides within our military community. The health, safety, and well-being of our military community is essential to the readiness of the Total Force. Any death by suicide is a tragedy. The DoD embraces a public health approach to suicide prevention that acknowledges a complex interplay of individual-, relationship-, and community-level risk factors. This approach focuses on reducing the suicide risk of all Service members and their family members by attempting to address the myriad of underlying risk and socio-demographic factors (e.g., reluctance towards help-seeking, relationship problems, access to lethal means), while also enhancing protective factors (e.g., strong social connections, problem-solving, and coping skills). The Department’s suicide prevention efforts are guided by the Defense Strategy for Suicide Prevention (DSSP) – aligned to the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention – and led by an executive-level, enterprise-wide governance body.

Findings of the CY 2018 ASR indicate an increase in suicide rates among the Active Component, as well as higher than expected rates in the National Guard compared to the U.S. population. Based on these results, the Department will not only focus on fully implementing and evaluating a multi-faceted public health approach to suicide prevention, but will target our military populations of greatest concern – young and enlisted Service members and members of the National Guard – and enhance support to our military families. Among other initiatives, our efforts will focus on helping our young and enlisted Service members develop and enhance foundational skills to deal with life stressors early in their military career, as well as recognize and respond to suicide warning signs on social media. For the National Guard members, the Department will work to increase accessibility to mental health care in remote areas, in partnership with the Department of Veteran Affairs, through Mobile Vet Centers during drill weekends, as well as implement the new Suicide Prevention and Readiness for the National Guard (SPRING) initiative. The Department will also continue to support military families by piloting and implementing initiatives to increase awareness of risk factors for suicide, safe storage of lethal means (firearms and medications), and how to intervene in a crisis.

This first-ever ASR is reflective of the Department’s efforts to increase transparency and frequency of reporting with respect to military suicides. This ASR also marks the first time the Department has reported on military family member suicides. This increased transparency and accountability will strengthen our program oversight and policies and assist the Department in its commitment to prevent this tragedy by ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of our Service members and their families.

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