Morale: Coping With The Suicide Rate


October 14, 2009: The U.S. Marines are joining the U.S. Army giving its troops suicide prevention training. The main goal of the program is to teach troops to recognize the signs that someone might be suicidal, and what they can do (stay with them, get a pro, like a chaplain, to help out). All this is because stress of being at war for eight years is showing up more and more in things like family problems and suicide.

Things like suicide rates are measured in how many people per 100,000 population are affected. The active duty strength of the army is over half a million troops (including a fluctuating number of activated reservists). Thus the suicide rate in 2008 was 20 per 100,000 troops . In 2007 it was 19. The rate in 2006 was 12.8, and for the last decade, had fluctuated between 10-13 per 100,000. The suicide rate for troops in Iraq has been about 40-50 percent higher than for soldiers stationed elsewhere. The suicide rate for the entire U.S. population is about 11 per 100,000.

The marine suicide rate has gone from 16 per 100,000 in 2001 to 22 per 100,000 last year. That was the first year of a spike, as the rate was 13 per 100,000 in 2006. This year, the rate is expected to be 23 per 100,000 troops.

It's well known that the suicide rate in the military is linked to stress. For example, back in 2005-6, the U.S. Navy was concerned when the suicide rate among submarine crewmen went to 35 per 100,000. At the time, the rest of the U.S. military Army had a rate about a third of that (about ten per 100,000 uniformed personnel). The suicide rate for submariners was eventually brought down to 20 per 100,000, mainly because the navy identified the causes of the stress and did something about it. But it's always understood that the suicide rate among the 20,000 submarine sailors will be higher, simply because it's more stressful work.

Non-combat stress can create an even higher suicide rate. The Russian military has a rate of 33 suicides per 100,000 troops (that's over 300 suicides). This is declining, but not fast enough. Russia is not at war, except for a small force in Chechnya, where they face remnants of separatist and Islamic terrorist groups. The Russian problem is institutionalized brutality of senior troops towards junior troops. This has been a problem since the end of World War II, and the government has been trying to fix it for over a decade now.




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