PSTD and Suicide in the American Forces


Suicide in the armed forces is a factor demanding attentionespecially in the troops deployed for active service in a war zone.Various factors associated with the conditions of battlefields andineffective transitions are major contributors the deaths. In theUnited States armed forces, suicide is common in both the activetroops and in veterans. Research conducted by different authors tryto dispel the myths surrounding the number of suicides in the armedforces. The department of defense has also been on its toes toreverse the trend. It has also ordered the non-disclosure of thesuicide statistics to the public and therefore, it I difficult to getthe definite number of the soldiers and veterans who have committedsuicide. However, reports indicate that more 100,000 soldiers havetaken their lives since 2001 (Mahon et al., 2014). The hypotheticalstatement is that the suicide incidents observed in the Americanarmed forces are a result of the experiences in the battlefieldbecause combat contributes to PTSD.

A lot of efforts have been implemented by the various stakeholders toprevent suicide and understand the conditions that led to suicide.However, the department of defense has remained elusive over thecause of military deaths. Therefore, their lack of comprehensiveaddress on the issue creates a barrier whereby researchers in themilitary and the civilian arena find it challenging develop thecorrect methods to curb the behavior (Ritchie, 2015).

The paper will borrow its conclusions from factual statisticsprovided by the department of defense and the research conducted byscholars with an interest in the inquiry. The hypothetical statementthat the soldiers commit suicide due to the difficulties they face inthe battlefield and the ineffective transition will find a prop onthe statistics given by the department of defense and independentresearchers. The research will make a comparison between the numberof troops who commit suicide after active service in deployment areasand those who opt to take their lives while on reserve.

Before the participation of American soldiers in Vietnam War, thepsychological conditions that affected serving soldiers went underdifferent names. Some termed them as war neurosis, combat fatigue,shell shock, and neurasthenia. Today, psychologists put all theseexplanations under the singer umbrella of Post-Traumatic StressDisorder. The department of defense screens soldiers before deployingthem into war zones to ensure their mental suitability and vitality.However, the returning personnel exhibit emotional and mentaldisturbance (LeardMann et al., 2013).

The number of soldiers committing suicide in the United Statesmilitary has been constant over the years, and it reached its peakin2009 when 352 active service personnel committed suicide. Lastyear, the department of defense reported 288 suicide cases amongactive-duty personnel. The number was 1% less from the numberrecorded in 2013 (LeardMann et al., 2013). On average, about 300soldiers out of 100,000 soldiers commit suicide. The rate is veryhigh compared to the civilian rate that stands at 12.5 individuals ina population of 100,000 (LeardMann et al., 2013).

To understand the behavior of the military, it will be imperative tolook at the rate and trends over the years. From January 1998 toDecember 2011, 2,990 service members committed suicide while onactive duty (LeardMann et al., 2013). The average number of suicidecases in the period was 21.4 per 100,000 soldiers (LeardMann et al.,2013). Among the males, the annual number of deaths was 151 in 1999and 296 in 2009. The number of female suicides over the same periodwas 4 in 2001 and 16 in 2011(LeardMann et al., 2013). These figuresshow that there has been an increase in the number of deaths for bothmen and were in active service. Some of the services recorded highsuicide rates than others. The Army and the Marine Corps recorded ahigh number of deaths than their counterparts from other branches.

The issue of suicide in the American military has been under scrutinyof various stakeholders who have tried to develop various theoriesand hypothesis. The policy changes surrounding the militaryoperations have been in the spotlight, and they have been thought tobe leading causes of suicide. The decision of the department of thearmy to include waivers for new recruits appears to some as degradingthe quality of a soldier to endure hardships and responsibility. Acloser examination into the army has failed to support thishypotheses sine there has been no significance difference in the rateof suicide between those who found the policy in operation and thosewho had endured the conventional training. Between 2003, 2005 and2006, the military waiver was not in effect (Bachynski et al., 2012).The number of suicides soared during this period and, therefore, therevised military training may not be a primary contributing factor.Also, some scholars hypothesized that soldiers in the line of dutywere assured of compensation for their families when they omittedsuicide during deployment. The number of soldiers committing suicidewhile in deployment or immediately after returning home has beenhigh. However, it the explanation does not address the number ofdeaths occurring among the troops who are not n deployment.

In addition, the increased trend of the poor mental health status ofthe military personnel especially as observed in the army has beentermed as a major cause of suicide. From the beginning of 2004, thenumber of soldiers seeking medical help either voluntarily or throughreferrals. Hospitalization for PTSD in the army increased and thiswas attributable to the returning troops from Iraq (Bachynski et al.,2012). Between 2001 and 2012, hospitalizations for posttraumaticstress and depression doubled and increased two and a half times foralcohol, abuse. Hospitalization also increased five times forsoldiers with substance dependence issues and ten times for PTSD.PSTD, therefore, is a leading cause of suicide in the American armedforces.

From 1990 to 2007, the rate of suicide in the military was muchhigher than that of civilians (Ramsawh et al., 2013). As mentionedthe reluctance of the department of defense to release informationand allow behavioral scientists to study the behaviors, the primarycauses of the suicides dod not come to light. The most notable threatthe suicide rates in the military were on the increase in 2003 whenthe government of the United States entered into war with Iraq. Amongthe deployed solders in Iraq, the suicide cases shot up to showsignificance difference with the troops back at home. The suicidecases among the soldiers at home rated 11.9 per 100,000 individuals(Bryan et al. 2013). For those deployed in Iraq, the number ofsuicide inflated to 18.3 per 100,000 individuals (Bryan et al. 2013). In 2005, the troops had already spent two years in Iraq with some ofthe soldiers returning and others going into the war zone. The numberof deaths during this period increased to 19.9 deaths power, 100,000individuals.

However, the stakeholders did not intensify any changes the suicideprevention efforts due to the debate that ensued as to whether thedeployment of soldiers to Iraq significantly increased the number ofdeaths through suicide. The premise of the debate was that between2003 and 2006, the average number of deaths as a result of suicide inthe army had not significantly increased (Bryan et al. 2013). Thetrend was only acceptable by the realization that although the numberof suicide attempts among the civilians was less than in soldiers,the number of deaths resulting from such attempts was higher in themilitary. The primary reason was that the soldiers have te mean toend their lives successfully. The inter-personal psychological theoryof suicide provides that individuals who take their lives have a highsense of having overwhelming burdens isolation and exhibit thecapacity to inflict self-harm. The perception of burdensome accordingto the theory indicates that individuals feel being burdens to theirclose acquaintances and relations like family, parents, spouses, andchildren. The feeling of not belonging may result from strainedrelationships, for example, family squabbles, divorce and rejectionby children. The motive to commit suicide idealizes when the idea ofthwarted belongingness meets the capacity to inflict self-harm. Asmentioned, the members of the defense forces have various methods ofcommitting suicide at their disposal. Using this theory, the cases ofsuicide by the veterans may find an explanation. The militaryveterans acquire the capability to die and to inflict fatal injuriesthrough their vigorous training. The capacity is also present inserving members. The military training emphasizes on the safety andresponsible use of weapons. However, this form of training does noteliminate the possibility of self-harm. Also, the military transitiontheory may explain the suicide cases by the veterans. Militarytransition involves the transformation of an individual from themilitary culture to the adoption of civilian culture. The process isnot easy for many soldiers and they take before they settle withtheir families and new occupations. The transition demands new typesof relationships, extended time with family and new occupations.Those who do not successful blend into the new life risk depressionand a feeling of being out of place.

Behavioral scholars identify the availability if methods to end lifein the military are another major cause of the increased cases. Inthe United States, more than half of the members serving in themilitary have a firearm in their house or in their immediateenvironment. Additionally, service members living on militaryinstallations observe the requirement for them to register personnelowned arms the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011 does notallow the military personnel to restrict or record informationregarding the legal acquisition and ownership of arms provided theydo not bring the weapons into the base. Most of the service membersrushed to hospital after attempting suicide have brain damage due toself-inflicted gunshots. The leading methods include the use offirearms, strangulation, and suffocation, hanging and poisoning. From1998 to 2011, the use of firearms was the leading methods used forsuicide by service members. It was followed closely by poisoning,strangulation and suffocation and poisoning.

A debate has also ensued among the psychiatric community in the roleplayed by religion and spirituality in reverting suicide behavioramong the serving soldiers. Sigmund Freud, a non-religious behavioralscientist, was of the opinion that religion may assist people withbehavioral issues (Kopacz &amp Connery, 2015). Freud believed thatif religion could assist people in finding the meaning for theirlives, then it would be easy to conclude that the purpose of life inan individual stands or falls in the face of religion. The armytraining that encompasses comprehensive soldier and family fitnessprogram as well as the concept of generic spirituality s that thearmy chaplains play an imperative role in shaping the behavior of theserving soldiers. A study conducted by Shaw (2010) proved thatspirituality plays an important role in preventing suicide among thedeployed and the reserve soldiers (Kopacz &amp Connery, 2015).

The military generic Spirituality takes a spirituality perspectivewhereby soldiers take an annual assessment. Before the assessment,they are acquainted with the questions and the assessors try as muchas possible not to make them religious. The aim of the assessment isto strengthen a set of beliefs and principles other than the familyand interpersonal values. As the study suggests, the spiritualityfitness program equips the soldiers with perseverance in combat, andit promotes the general wellbeing and self-confidence (Currier etal., 2015).

Religion, therefore, plays an important role in defining soldiers’behaviors about suicide. It also explains why all the battalions havea chaplain with clearly stipulated roles. For example, the ArmyHealth Promotion Regulation 600-63 identifies the chaplains as theprimary gatekeepers who provide counseling services to the soldierswhile in need (Currier et al., 2015). The comprehensive trainingprogram supports their roles since it first identifies the soldiersas suicidal or not. As religious leaders, they use the mainstreameducators of morality like the Bible to teach and counsel. The Bibleis very clear on the values placed on human life. As the Bible putsit, “Thu shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13), the religious leadersexpound on this biblical teaching to include the instance of peopletaking their lives as teaches it as against the will of God. Were itnot important the military would have considered the servicesrendered by the chaplains as obsolete.


The environment surrounding combat indirectly leads to suicide inserving members and veterans. Combat situation contains risk factorsthat contribute to PTSD whose progression without being addressed bya medical professional exposes individuals to suicide. The currentstatistics by military times conducted on for million veterans foundout that every 65 minutes, a veteran attempts suicide (Ritchie,2015). The number of suicide deaths among the veterans tends to behigher than in those already in active service. An explanation forthis can incline towards the capacity acquired by the soldiers to endlife by inflicting fatal injuries. The number of suicides by use ofarms tops the list mainly to ease of access to arms. The departmentof defense requires serving individuals to register arms. The reportby the military times also indicated that most of the veterans whoattempted or successfully committed suicide had served underdeployment (Ritchie, 2015). It explains the increase in the number ofsoldiers taking their lives after the Iraq and Afghanistan war.

During service, soldiers may suppress PTSD since they are still inthe mainstream activities. They conduct drills and keep their friendin their units. Those who lead units continue being so. The militarytimes highlights that some of the personnel have suppressed PTSD thatcannot be notable until the time they leave service (Bryan et al.,2015). The reason for the forced suppression and failure to look formedical help lies in the military training that emphasizes onresilience and the fear of their condition affecting the progressionof their career in the military. During promotions and specialduties, individual with reported mental disturbances would not be theright candidates for deployment. Also, unit leaders fear that bymaking their condition known, they would be involuntarily be relievedtheir duties. The department of defense has put measures to increaseaccess to mental health by soldiers coming from deployment and thoseon reserve (Bryan et al., 2013). However, health seeking behavior islow compared to the number of soldiers who arrive at veterans’hospital to seek medical services. The tendency, therefore, does notexempt combat indirect contribution to the cases of suicide in themilitary.

The presence of chaplains in the military has also been an importantfactor in shaping the spirituality of soldiers and giving them moralsupport. Every battalion has a chaplain who acts as the primarygatekeeper. The chaplains incline on religious teachings to teach onthe importance of life from a spirituality point of view as indicatedin the army a comprehensive training program.

It is worth noting that PTSD develops gradually in individualsbecause of the components of the interpersonal-psychological theoryof suicide. The continued feeling of being overburdened and lack ofbelonging heightens during the transition period. The effects ofcombats may not be identifiable without a deep analysis until whenthese components flourish (Bryan et al., 2015). The strain that comeswith the need to change lifestyle and develop new relationships isnot smooth for many veterans. Besides, many soldiers who contemplatesuicide while still in active duty experiences at least a couple ofthese feelings. According to the department of defense (2012), PTSDtopped the list as the most prevalent issues in service membersseeking mental health services followed closely by alcohol andsubstance dependence. Therefore, if the number of PTSD patientsincreased tenfold while the troops were in Iraq, the department ofdefense and other scholars who share similar sentiments would bewrong to assume that combat does not lead to PTSD and consequentlyincreased chances of committing suicide.

The conclusions made by the paper by drawings its premises from theavailable data affirms the hypothesis that combat has a directrelationship with the suicide cases in the American armed forces.Although the department of defense tries to alienate combat with theincreased cases of soldiers taking their lives, it is clear thattroops on deployment register more cases of suicide than those athome.

In conclusion, the number of deaths in the American armed forces hasnot significantly reduced despite the numerous efforts take by theDepartment of Defense to provide mental health service and supportprograms. The question as to whether combat contributes to thesuicide has been subject to debate by different stakeholders withsome hold on to the idea that it is not directly attributable to thedeaths. However, statistics drawn from the time thegovernment-deployed soldiers in Iraq shows that the leading mentalcondition for soldiers seeking professional help was PTSD. Theenvironment surrounding combat contributes to PTSD and a studyconducted by the active troops in Iraq confirmed that the number ofsoldiers seeking medical help increased and it was not present in thetroops back at home.


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