According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost one million people die by suicide every year, with a global mortality rate of 10.7 people per 100,000.1 In the U.S., a suicide attempt occurs every 31 seconds, and an average of 1 person dies by suicide every 11.9 minutes.2 However, experts believe that suicide-related incidents might be 10% to 15% higher than officially reported. When it comes to suicide in the military, it’s the second leading cause of death among servicemembers.2 If you have a loved one who’s in the military, below are some risk factors and signs of suicide to look out for and ways we can help.
Reasons for Suicide in the Military
In 2021, research found that 30,177 active-duty military personnel and veterans who served in the military after 9/11 died by suicide – compared to the 7,057 service members killed in combat within those same 20 years.3 In other words, military suicide rates are four times higher than deaths that occurred during military operations, during which servicemembers were exposed to combat.4
But what are the risk factors for suicides in the military? Several factors can contribute to suicide, but for active-duty service members, there’s an additional level of potential stressors in addition to the regular ups and downs of life.
Common risk factors for suicide in the military include:
- Loneliness: Many servicemembers are stationed in other countries or deployed to combat zones for months and sometimes years at a time, which can lead to isolation and loneliness. According to the Blue Star Families 2021 Military Family Lifestyles Survey, 8 in 10 active-duty personnel were separated from their families in the past 18 months due to military service, and 31% have been separated for a total of six months or longer.5 During this time, they’re separated from their family and friends and living in unfamiliar locations while dealing with the stress and dangers of their job.
- Struggling to connect with fellow service members: According to a 2018 study, social connections in the military act as a buffer against stress and negative life experiences on mental health.6 It can be difficult for some personnel to bond with fellow service members, depending on the location and resources of their assignment. This is a serious issue for the morale and mental health of military servicemembers, not only impacting their operational performance but also their personal lives.
- Relationship problems: Speaking of connecting with others, another stressor that military personnel face is relationship problems. It’s common for marriages, in particular, to suffer while a spouse is deployed, mainly because of the time spent apart.
- Combat and exposure to trauma: Of course, another major risk factor for suicide in the military is exposure to combat and resulting trauma. Many military personnel and veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of their time in combat, which could be challenging to cope with without mental health treatment.
- Sexual assault: From April 2018 to March 2019, there were 20,500 service members who were sexually assaulted or raped, including 13,000 women and 7,500 men. What’s more, the rate of sexual assault and rape jumped nearly 40% from April 2016 to March 2018, and for women, the rates increased by over 50% to the highest level since 2006.7 Sexual assault is especially common among female military personnel. As you can imagine, this can be distressing enough to contribute to suicide.
- Mental illness: Mental illness, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD, are also common contributing factors to suicides in the military. There are plenty of resources out there for military personnel and veterans, including many of which are offered at our military rehab center.
Signs of Suicide in Military Personnel
Suicide is rarely a random occurrence but rather the culmination of various stressors the individual may have been dealing with for a while. If you have a loved one who’s in the military, below are some common signs of suicide in military servicemembers to be mindful of:
- Talking about wanting to die
- Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or purposeless
- Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
- Acting anxious or agitated
- Behaving recklessly
- Social withdrawal or isolation from others
- Neglecting responsibilities at work or home
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Mood swings
- Displaying depressive symptoms
- Getting their affairs in order (giving away their things, speaking with lawyers, etc.)
Another risk of suicide may also include the loss of a coworker. Unfortunately, it’s common for active-duty personnel to lose comrades on the battlefield, which can lead to severe grief, depression, and fear.
If you notice that someone close to you is exhibiting these warning signs, don’t leave the person alone. Remove any firearms, sharp objects, alcohol, and drugs from the area. You call also call or text the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988, or you can take the individual to the emergency room or a medical professional.
Military Suicide Help
Suicide is a heartbreaking incident that can happen to anyone. Therefore, it’s important to be mindful of the signs of suicide and to check up on loved ones consistently. Substance abuse and mental illness are common contributing factors to suicide, both of which are also common among military servicemembers and veterans.
If someone you know is a veteran or active-duty personnel and needs help recovering from mental illness and addiction, our Military and Veterans in Recovery Program can help. Our program offers drug addiction treatment and mental illness (in select Banyan rehab locations) that can aid in your or your loved one’s recovery.
- WHO – Suicide
- USU – Suicide in the Military
- Brown University – High Suicide Rates Among United States Service Members And Veterans Of The Post-9/11 Wars
- NPR – Since 9/11, Military Suicides Are 4 Times Higher Than Deaths In War Operations
- Blue Star Family – 2021 Military Family Lifestyle Survey
- NIH – Masculinity, Social Connectedness, and Mental Health: Men’s Diverse Patterns of Practice
- Protect Our Defenders – Military Sexual Assault Fact Sheet