The suicide rate in the military is rising at an alarming rate

FAYETTEVILLE, NC (WTVD) — On World Mental Health Day, the Department of Defense released data showing an alarming rise in military suicides.

The increase is staggering: the Department of Defense reports that there has been a 40% increase in suicides between 2015 and 2020 among active duty military personnel. Rates jumped 15% in 2020 alone. Experts say the pandemic is definitely one of the reasons why, but it’s more than that.

“(A)time has passed, we’ve seen a really tough struggle in the workplace, especially in mental health, where there just aren’t enough providers for the help that’s needed and for the work that has to be So I think a lot of people get discouraged and end up on waiting lists, said Miranda Briggs, President and CEO of Fight The War Within.

“(T)hey were no strangers to those tough times this went on, the tragedy this was,” said Jennifer Smith, director of the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic. “A lot of them deployed to the United States for a lot of tasks and functions that we weren’t aware of as civilians, so that certainly played a part in that.”

Veteran Ricky Johnson also notes that ex-servicemen can struggle with their identity, and by extension, their sanity, after leaving the military.

“It was the peak of our career, the peak of our life. We had a responsibility, a purpose. We were in peak physical condition. We were respected. Take that away from people, you know, a lot of people have hard to go through.”

Briggs lost her veteran husband to suicide in 2018, just days after the birth of their daughter. She says she is heartbroken because despite her husband’s pleas for help, his service providers pushed them away. Losing it inspired her to create her suicide prevention organization, Fight The War Within.

“We need to start thinking about what we are doing outside of this facility as a community. How can we start to invite and include active duty, to know that there are resources outside of your chain of command “Outside of the protocol that you can feel you have to — you know you have to go through. If that’s getting in the way of you getting care, that’s not OK,” Briggs said.

Johnson notes that suicide is not just a problem for service members, but also for their families. Johnson lost his son to suicide in 2015. It’s a loss Johnson attributes in part to his own battles with drugs after serving. He says he wants his story to teach others how the misbehavior of individuals affects the mental health of those around them. He says the fight against suicide must be a community effort:

“We need to come together to, you know. Communicate, have empathy, have compassion… We all need connection. We all need to feel like we matter to someone.”

Last month, President Biden introduced a strategy specifically targeting suicide prevention. The military also issued new guidance to commanders on mental health in the ranks. Veterans Affairs drew attention to its counseling services by issuing a statement saying in part:

“A top clinical priority is to prevent suicide in ALL veterans – including those who do not and may never seek care within the VA health care system. Veterans in mental health crisis are encouraged to seek help immediately. There is help.”

The VA encourages serving and former service members to call the Veterans Crisis Line if they are experiencing mental health issues. It is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and family members and caregivers of veterans can also call if they need help.

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