Why Are So Many US Soldiers Committing Suicide?

By Mike Devlin on Sunday, August 18, 2013
soldier
“What the horrors of war are, no one can imagine.” —Florence Nightingale

In A Nutshell

In recent years, there has been a massive upswing in suicides among members of the American military. While it may seem obvious to blame the post traumatic stress of being deployed to overseas war zones, researchers have found that more than half of those who have killed themselves have never left American soil or seen combat. The cause is currently unknown, and a study is underway.

The Whole Bushel

General Sherman said “War is hell,” and certainly the atrocities of war have inspired despair in soldiers for all of human history. The recent American campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq only serve to bolster the idea that war ravages the human psyche. According to the Associated Press, 349 members of the Army took their lives in 2012, more than the 295 who died in the line of combat in Afghanistan. Although all the branches of the military have been affected, the Army has seen the worst effects.

But researchers have discovered something even more curious in recent years: More than half of the soldiers who committed suicide had never even been deployed overseas. Of those who had, only a few had even seen action on the front lines. It might make sense if those who killed themselves had witnessed the horrors of the battlefield, but why would men stationed in domestic military bases (with steady jobs and many of the surface comforts of home), be driven so frequently to suicide?

Although theories have been advanced, no concrete answers have been set forth to address this disturbing, mysterious trend. A major part of the issue may be that mental illness bears a stigma of weakness, especially among men trained to be stoic in the face of mortal danger. Sleep deprivation and family tensions can plague soldiers, even those who have not known the rigors of combat. Some experts believe the trend is going to become even worse as American forces draw down their current battlefield numbers.

According to General Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s second-in-command, only about half of service members who need help seek it out. The American military is currently conducting a $50 million study to help determine the causes at work, to be completed in 2014.

Show Me The Proof

Why Soldiers Keep Losing to Suicide
Army Releases November Suicide Data
More U.S. Troops Died by Suicide Than in Afghanistan Combat in 2012