News Details

Navy sees suicide uptick despite prevention efforts

By Corinne Reilly The Virginian-Pilot

Published: Friday 25 July, 2014

After a drop in 2013, suicides among Navy sailors have increased sharply so far this year.

The Pentagon this week released updated suicide numbers for all of the service branches for 2013. Overall, they show a decline in suicides among active-duty service members compared with 2012. Suicides decreased among Navy sailors, too, from 57 in 2012 to 43 last year.

But so far this year, the Navy has seen a marked increase - 38 confirmed or suspected suicides as of this week, according to the service. That's up roughly 50 percent compared with the same period last year.

The 2014 number is preliminary, as some deaths are still being investigated.

Like the military's other branches, the Navy has made suicide prevention a top priority in recent years, and after last year's decline, officials were hopeful that the efforts were working.

Despite this year's uptick, "I'm not ready to call it a reversal yet," said Rear Adm. Sean S. Buck, who oversees suicide prevention for the Navy.

Buck said in an interview that officials are watching the count closely and scrutinizing each case, and so far, nothing has indicated a reason for the spike. "We're not seeing any common denominator among these 38," he said.

For the most part, Buck said, this year's deaths appear to have been prompted by circumstances that commonly precede suicide among both sailors and civilians: marital, financial or legal problems; or what officials describe as a "fall from glory" - for example, a missed promotion at work or a major mistake that leads to removal from a leadership position.

The Navy has added suicide prevention programs and mental health specialists, and it is taking steps to reduce sailors' stress, especially among those who deploy.

About a year and a half ago, the service created a task force charged with building sailors' resiliency. Emotional resiliency can be learned, Buck said, and research has linked it to decreased suicide risk.

Earlier this year, the Navy began requiring sailors in deploying units to complete a four-hour training that used to be voluntary. It gives them tools for managing stress and teaches leaders to recognize signs of a potential suicide, Buck said.

The service also recently hired nearly two dozen "resiliency counselors" - civilian mental health workers who deploy with crews aboard aircraft carriers and large-deck amphibious ships.

Between 2012 and 2013, suicides among active-duty service members dropped by nearly 19 percent, from 319 to 259, according to the Pentagon. Among National Guard and Reserve members, they increased, from 203 to 220.

Besides the Navy, the Air Force also has seen an uptick in suicides so far this year, according to numbers reported by The Associated Press. Among soldiers and Marines, suicides have gone down in 2014.

Original Article