Suicides among US military rose over 40% between 2015 and 2020
According to US Defense Department data, suicides among active-duty service members increased by more than 40% between 2015 and 2020.
The numbers jumped by 15% in 2020 alone. In longtime suicide hotspot postings such as Alaska – service members and their families contend with extreme isolation and a harsh climate – the rate has doubled.
A 2021 study by the Cost of War Project concluded that since 9/11, four times as many service members and veterans have died by suicide as have perished in combat.
The study detailed stress factors particular to military life: “high exposure to trauma — mental, physical, moral, and sexual — stress and burnout, the influence of the military’s hegemonic masculine culture, continued access to guns, and the difficulty of reintegrating into civilian life.”
Last year the Army issued fresh guidelines to its commanders on how to handle mental health issues in the ranks, complete with briefing slides and a script. But daunting long-term challenges remain. Many soldiers fear the stigma of admitting to mental health issues within the internal military culture of self-sufficiency. And those who seek help often find that stigma is not only real, but compounded by bureaucratic obstacles.
Much like the issue of food insecurity in military families, a network of military-adjacent charitable organizations has tried to fill the gaps with a variety of programs and outreach efforts.
The situation in Alaska is particularly dire. In January, after a string of suicides, Command Sgt. Maj. Phil Blaisdell addressed his soldiers in an emotional Instagram post. “When did suicide become the answer,” he asked. “Please send me a DM if you need something. Please …”