26 March 2009

So I too will also comment on the Army's suicide spike

A number of articles recently have been talking about an alarming rise in suicides in the US military in recent years, particularly among the Army and Marines.

Statistics obtained by CNN show that the Army will report 128 confirmed suicides last year and an additional 15 suspected suicides in cases under investigation among active-duty soldiers and activated National Guard and reserves.

Statistics obtained by CNN show that the Army will report 128 confirmed suicides last year and an additional 15 suspected suicides in cases under investigation among active-duty soldiers and activated National Guard and reserves.

Suicides for Marines were also up in 2008. Marines had 41 suicides in 2008, up from 33 in 2007 and 25 in 2006, according to a Marines report

The numbers did not surprise Kevin Lucey, whose 23-year-old son, Jeffrey M. Lucey -- a former Marine -- hanged himself on June 22, 2004 -- 11 months after returning from Iraq.

The night before, "Jeffrey asked if he could sit in my lap and if we could rock," Lucey said. "It was about 11:30 at night. And I rocked him for about 45 minutes. Now here you have a 23-year-old, 150-pound Marine that I'm just rocking and his therapist said it was his last gasp. It was his last place for refuge, and then the next time I held him in my lap was when I was taking him down from the rafters. He had put the hose around his neck double-looped and he was dead."

After sitting through the mandatory suicide prevention classes, I now felt it necessary to weigh in on the subject. I'm always one to believe that correlation does not automatically imply causality, but in this case, I have to believe that there is definitely a relation between combat rotations--particularly multiple combat rotations--and suicides. Even Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a recent town hall meeting in Fort Campbell that he felt that multiple deployments were contributing to suicide.

But along comes a $50 million dollar Army-sponsored study to reassure us that absolutely nothing's wrong--multiple combat deployments with minimal time at home apparently have no affect on suicide rates. Just like how the tobacco companies have studies which state that smoking is good for you. Quotes the article:

The Army released frightening new suicide statistics Thursday, but suggested the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have little to do with this alarming trend.

In fact, the vice chief of staff of the Army said that after reviewing suicide statistics for 2008, multiple combat deployments actually make soldiers less likely to commit suicide.

"The rational person might think the more deployments, the more likely you are to commit suicide, but we saw exactly the opposite," said Gen. Peter Chiarelli. "A certain resiliency seems to grow in an individual who has multiple deployments."

Chiarelli and other Army officials released the February statistics on a conference call with online journalists Thursday. Last month, the number of Army suicides nearly equaled that of soldiers killed in combat. Among active-duty, National Guard, and Reserve soldiers, there were 18 unconfirmed suicides and 20 combat-related deaths in February.

Again, not one to automatically jump to the "correlation/causality" bias, but something doesn't seem right. Any psychiatrists care to comment? Is there a point of diminishing returns where one deployment makes one want to commit suicide, whereas four tends to build some sort of resistance?

"I wish we could show you Beyond the Front [the interactive suicide prevention video], because what you described, the Beyond the Front video, the interactive video, that is serving as the centerpiece for our current stand-down, gets at those issues," he said.

The video was good, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't the greatest thing since sliced bread, as the Army seems to have been touting it.

Oh, and by the way, when you get to the option where you have to tell the potential suicide victim to see mental help and are given the option to take the guy to the shrink by force (in the middle of a Burger King), definitely take him by force. It's funny, and mistakes are the best ays to learn...

Focus: Okay, who voted to take the guy by force to the psychiatrist? Come on, raise your hands...


Boss Mongo said...

Y'know, the news could alleviate a lot of the speculation with a little more research. Looking at all the headlines--and reading some of the affiliated articles--I still don't know:
-How does the per capita Army suicide rate compare with that of the US population at large?
-Is there a statistically significant relationship between the spike in the suicide rate and the percentage of those troops who had deployed/multiple deployments who committed suicide?
-What is the breakdown between suicide troops with deployments and those without?
-Cull the deployed troops out, and how do the numbers stack up against traditional Army suicide rates?
-Have there been such spikes in the past, and was it perceived at the time to be because of an ongoing deployment cycle/conflict?
I tend to think that, were there a definite, discernible relationship between #deployments and suicides, that that would be the headline. The fact that the media leaves it to you, the reader, to speculate as to what degree correlation is causation, makes me think that the relationship is probably pretty weak. But that's just me; I'm jaded and cynical.

Starbuck said...

I remember reading that the military suicide rate was almost equaling that in the civilian world. I hate to be callous about suicide, of course, but when you consider a demographic that has instant access to a loaded weapon in their living quarters 24 hours a day, I'm surprised the rate isn't higher.

You could also make the case that maybe the Army is trying to accept so many people that recruiters are willing to overlook some issues in order to put Soldiers in the Army.

Anonymous said...

We've had our share of news about Army suicides here as well. However, the Houston Chronicle has focused on the recruiting batallion here, since most of the suicides have been with recruiters. http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/side2/6023927.html I'm not sure how much of it is the usual Houston Comical sensationalist reporting, but many of the articles have talked about the intimidation and such of the recruiters' superiors which have led to the spike in suicides.