Suicides in the US Army jumped to an all-time high of 32 in July, the most since the Army began releasing monthly figures in 2009, as the stress of ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan took a greater toll on US soldiers.
Last month 22 active-duty soldiers and ten reservists committed suicide, surpassing the previous record of 31 in June last year.
“Every suicide represents a tragic loss,” General Peter W. Chiarelli, the vice chief of staff of the Army, said in a written statement. “While the high number of potential suicides in July is discouraging, we are confident our efforts…are having a positive impact.”
Three years ago the Army’s suicide rate for the first time eclipsed the comparable suicide rate for US civilians, prompting Army leaders to announce a new training and prevention campaign to identify soldiers at risk.
In 2007 the Army recorded 115 confirmed suicides among active-duty soldiers and 128 in 2008. This compares with just 67 in 2004 amongst active duty soldiers.
Several years ago the Army launched a US$50 million research study on suicides and suicidal behaviour in conjunction with the federal government’s National Institute of Mental Health. It has hired hundreds of mental health and substance abuse councillors as part of its efforts to improve soldiers recover from combat stress.
So far, the Army’s efforts have not yielded positive results, with approximately 160 active duty and reserve soldiers in the Army committing suicide in the first seven months of this year, the Washington Post reports.
One leading factor in suicides is stress caused by deployments, particularly in combat zones, and the destructive effect on personal relationships, according to Army officials.
As the largest branch of the US armed forces with 1.1 million active duty and reserve soldiers, the Army has done the brunt of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, including years of extended duty and repeated deployments.
But Army officials said the strain of warfare and multiple deployments does not fully explain the rise in suicides, noting that 35% of suicides in 2008 occurred among soldiers who had never been deployed.
Another 35% of 2008 suicides followed deployment while 30% occurred while soldiers were in the field.
Most suicides among deployed soldiers occurred during their first deployment, suggesting that some troops may learn to cope better with stress after multiple tours of duty, officials said.
Most of the soldiers who committed suicide after deployment took their own lives more than a year after their return home, which could suggest difficulties in returning to civilian life as a contributing factor.