Latest DoD Suicide Report Highlights Need for Behavioral Health Support and Reintegration Programs

woman standing by grave

The Department of Defense’s annual suicide report indicates suicide events are often linked to various quality of life stressors rather than direct exposure to combat or trauma. The DoD Suicide Event report (DoDSER), released April 28, 2014, gathered information on all fatal and nonfatal suicide events carried out by service members in 2012. A total of 319 active duty and mobilized National Guard and reserve service members died by suicide in that year, an increase of 6% from 2011. Among nonmobilized National Guard and reserve members, there were 203 deaths by suicide in 2012. 

90 days prior to a suicide event the most common stressor is family and relationship issues

The stressors most commonly associated with suicide events are family and relationship stressors, administrative and legal problems, and workplace and financial problems. 

Another troubling finding is that the majority of service members who died by suicide in 2012 had sought mental health care up to 90 days prior to the event. In fact, two-thirds of Army soldiers who died by suicide were seen by a mental health professional prior to their deaths.

One suicide attempt is too many. 

The trends of suicides and attempts revealed in the 2012 report are a cause of grave concern. As budget pressures intensify, our Association fears that reintegration and behavioral health support for service members and their families will decline. DoDSER findings that relationship problems and financial stress are major contributors to suicide relate directly to the support network that exists to help military families. They emphasize the need for ongoing improvements to the system and further illustrate the dangerous consequences of sequestration cuts to military family programs.

The DoDSER shows a majority of service members who attempted or died by suicide sought health or support services within 90 days before the event, meaning these service members reached out for help and still attempted suicide. While we are encouraged by greater access to mental health care, these findings demand improvements to the military behavioral health system and call for further research into how best to support service members and military families after more than a decade of war.

National Military Family Association Advocacy

The 2012 DoDSER is the most reliable and comprehensive source of information on suicide in the military for that year, but it isn’t all-inclusive. For instance, the report only accounts for service members who carried out a suicide event while on active status. This methodology can lead to misunderstanding of suicide within the reserve component. Additionally, the report only measures suicide events for service members, and does not include spouses and children.

To improve suicide tracking in the future, our Association supports legislation that will make two key changes to the current reporting system.

  1. Detailed tracking of suicide events among all service members, regardless of their status at the time of the event. 
  2. Tracking of the number of suicides among members of military families, including spouses and children, an Association priority for several years.

Resources for Families in Crisis

Families who are struggling have access to a number of resources. Please note: You do not need to be a service member or veteran to call, and you can call out of concern for someone else.

  • Military Crisis Line – Free crisis management available to ALL military-related individuals, not just veterans or service members.
    Call: 1.800.273.8255 – Press 1. Or text: 838255
  • Vets4Warriors – Provides free Peer-to-Peer counseling with veterans.
    Call: 1.855.838.8255
  • Military OneSource - Call: 1.800.342.9647
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Until military families are relieved of the weight of war, we hope you will continue to contribute to their wellbeing.

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