Suicides In The Military

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Suicides in the Military


Reports indicate that suicide in the U.S. military has increased significantly in recent years. This increase has been attributed to a number of factors, including more frequent deployments, more relaxed screening of recruits, combat trauma, economic difficulty amongst soldiers, and the breakdown of interpersonal relationships. In this article, we add an element that we believe is crucial to an understanding of military suicide: the socio-cultural environment of the military itself. In particular, we examine the role that the masculine ideologies governing military life play in the internalization of individual frustrations and in suicidal behavior. Suicide investigators often have ignored the role of masculine ideologies in military suicide because of the assumption that suicide results from social disintegration. In contrast, we argue that military suicide is driven largely by excessive social integration. From this perspective, current explanations of military suicide are constrained by gender and etiological assumptions. Finally, this paper suggests the implications of these findings for designing more effective prevention programs for military suicide.

Suicides in the Military


In 2006, the U.S. Army suicide rate rose to 17.5 suicides per 100,000 active-duty soldiers (Jelinek, 2007). This figure surpassed the previous record of 15.8 per 100,000 in 1985 (Associated Press, 2006) to become the highest annual suicide rate since the Army began tabulating statistics in 1980 (Jelinek, 2007). This record-high figure was not an aberration. Army suicides had risen steadily since 2002 (Associated Press, 2006; Martinez, 2003) and would continue to rise after 2006, with each subsequent year establishing a new record suicide rate: 18.1 per 100,000 in 2007 (Alvarez, 2008) and 20.2 per 100,000 in 2008 (Alvarez, 2009). In 2009, 160 soldiers took their lives, bringing the suicide rate up to 21.7 per 100,000, another record-high (Kovach, 2010; Thompson 2010). The rise in the suicide rate among active-duty soldiers is not limited to the Army. The Air Force suicide rate rose to 13.7 per 100,000 in 2009 from 12.5 in 2008 (Spoth, 2010). The Navy rate increased from 11.6 per 100,000 in 2008 (Faram, 2009) to 14.5 per 100,000 last year (Spoth, 2010). The suicide rate among active-duty Marines rose to 24 per 100,000 in 2009, up from21.7 per 100,000 the previous year (Kovach, 2010).

The higher rates of suicide among the Army and Marines have been attributed to these branches being significantly more involved in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan (Carden, 2010); this combat situation notwithstanding, suicide rates have historically been highly comparable across branches (Eaton, Messer, Wilson, & Hoge, 2006) and, indeed, have consistently risen across all branches over the past four years (Carden, 2010). The relative uniformity of these increases has led the military to view suicide as a problem that affects all branches of the armed services. In thewords of MikeMullen, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “This isn't just a ground-force problem” (Carden, 2010). These increases in military suicide rates have been striking, even given the notorious difficulties in determining accurate statistics for military suicide.

First, suicides among military personnel are ...
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