The following is the 2020 Department of Defense (DoD) Annual Suicide Report (ASR).
From the report
The Department of Defense (DoD) is committed to preventing suicide and reducing stigma for seeking help within our military community, recognizing and valuing the diversity and talent each member contributes to our mission. We owe this to our Service members and families defending our Nation.
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 rates for DoD and a means by which to increase transparency and accountability for DoD efforts toward the prevention of suicide.
This ASR provides an update on the Department’s efforts to combat suicide, presenting recent suicide data on Service members and, to the extent available, their families; trends over time; and ongoing suicide prevention initiatives, including recent program evaluation, data sharing, collaborative research efforts, and programs to reduce the stigma associated with seeking assistance for mental health or suicidal thoughts. This report also meets requirements of Section 741 of the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 (Public Law 116-92) as amended in Section 742 of the NDAA for FY 2021 (Public Law 116-283), as noted in Appendix A.
Department Actions Taken Since CY 2019 ASR
Since the publication of last year’s ASR, the Department collectively has made progress in developing and fielding programs targeting our population of greatest concern identified in the CY 2019 ASR findings—young and enlisted members—as well as supporting our military families (Department of Defense, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, 2020a). The Department has also taken proactive steps to mitigate the impact on members’ well-being caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Examples of actions taken include:
Support Young and Enlisted Service Members:
- Piloted and evaluated a Simple Things Save Lives training video on how to recognize and respond to suicide warning signs on social media. DoD released the video after a successful evaluation pilot, which showed that Service members found the video useful (85%), learned how to recognize warning signs online (80%), and how to respond (84%), including specific resources to share with others (84%).
- Piloted and evaluated a Resources Exist, Asking Can Help (REACH) training designed to address perceived help-seeking barriers (e.g., career concerns) and encourage help-seeking and the use of resources before challenges become overwhelming. Evaluation found REACH lowered Service members’ perceived barriers, and increased their comfort with seeking help and knowledge of resources available.
- Published Leaders Suicide Prevention Safe Messaging Guide to address misconceptions about suicide and increase safe and effective communication about suicide across DoD.
- Collaborated with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and other agencies to implement a national public health communication campaign to increase awareness of resources and help-seeking, and to prepare for “988” crisis line implementation.
- Conducted first-ever DoD survey examining Service member attitudes and behaviors regarding firearm storage and their beliefs about firearms and suicide risk. Leveraged findings to develop evidence-informed means safety communication tools.
- Advanced the Department’s public health approach in policy to address risk and protective factors shared across readiness-detracting behaviors, such as suicide.
Support Military Families:
- Established a working group to develop a suite of family safety communication tools (e.g., Means Safety Guide for Service Members and Family Members, public service announcement [PSA] video), as well as a means safety campaign reinforcing the importance of safely storing firearms and medications. This suite is scheduled for approval in CY 2021.
- Developed Resources Exist, Asking Can Help – Spouse (REACH-S) training to address spouses’ barriers to care and increase help-seeking.
- Trained middle and high school students in DoD schools via Signs of Suicide (SOS) training on suicide risk factors and help-seeking skills. Trained staff to deliver training in person for schools operating on regular schedules, and adapted training for virtual learning environments, with curriculum accessed at 100% of middle and high schools.
Better Measure Program Effectiveness:
- Collected follow-up Service member data, in addition to the prior baseline data, aligned with the DoD-wide suicide prevention program evaluation framework. Several years of data are required to reliably track changes over time and evaluate effectiveness of programs.
- Developed new DoD-wide suicide prevention program evaluation framework, specific for the military spouse population.
Address Potential Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic:
The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has tremendously impacted our Nation, influencing the health, well-being, social isolation, economic strain, and/or suicide risk for many individuals. The Department proactively responded via a variety of initiatives and virtual support efforts to ensure continued delivery of services and resources to the military community. Across the Department, examples of actions taken include the following, with further detail in the report:
- Participated in the Federal Coronavirus Mental Health Working Group per Executive Order 13594, Saving Lives Through Increased Support for Mental and Behavioral Health Needs.
- Launched tailored coronavirus resources on Military OneSource, DoD websites, Service/unit social media channels, and virtual leadership engagements. Offered suicide prevention training and resources virtually and increased communication on available resources (e.g., Veterans/Military Crisis Line, in transition, non-medical counseling, financial education/counseling).
- Leveraged DoD’s CY 2020 Suicide Prevention Month campaign of “Connect to Protect” throughout the year to focus on promoting connectedness and preventing suicide.
- Implemented studies to understand the impact of the pandemic and inform additional DoD actions.
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