The U.S. Army is reported a notable decrease in the number of active-duty soldiers committing suicide last year, saying the number fell from 185 in 2012 to 150.
According to Start and Stripes, the reduction represented a 19 percent drop and reversed what had been referred to by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as an epidemic of suicides. There were weeks and months when more soldiers killed themselves than were felled in combat, the newspaper that military affairs noted.
Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, chief of Army personnel, expressed cautious optimism over the numbers. “I’m not declaring any kind of victory here,” Bromberg said. But he added, “It’s looking more promising.”
The Army has invested millions in a comprehensive effort to develop ways to head-off suicides and bolster emotional resilience among soldiers. It has also been collaborating with the National Institutes of Health on suicide prevention. One experimental program involving 30 soldiers at Fort Carson in Colorado showed a 60 percent reduction in attempted suicides.
“I think we’ve hit the turning point where people are really, really talking about behavioral health and the fact that it’s OK to have problems,” Bromberg said.
Some attribute the decline in suicides to the end of the war in Iraq and the winding down of the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan.
“I get the sense when I work with military people now, they just don’t seem as burnt out as they used to be,” psychologist Craig Bryan at the University of Utah’s National Center for Veterans Studies told Stars and Stripes.
The Army suicides were included in a preliminary report of all presumed and actual suicides across all branches of the service in 2013. The figures show that suicide deaths were down from 351 across all military branches in 2012 to 284 overall last year.
But the preliminary data also shows that suicides among those who are no longer on active duty remained at record levels. The Army reported 151 suicides among members of the National Guard and reserves, an increase from 140 suicides in 2012.
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By Elliot Jager