Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Email to Chaplain working in the area of suicide prevention

Have you all been able to determine from research much about the increase in the suicide rate? I have been in several discussions which seem to focus on the trend increasing related to those who enlist, i.e. those from the lower categories seem to have fewer life skills to cope or seek help. In a conversation with a CH at the Fort Jackson hospital, there seems to be fewer in the psy ward with the summer enlistees who are mostly high school graduates than later in the year when the recruiters are enlisting whoever they can sign up. I know this may be only one of the factors added to repeated deployments, single parent families, etc. How does the Army rate compare to the Air Force and Navy? I’m interested in any general thoughts. TC

The following is from a chaplain that is working in the agency responsible for developing programs, etc. for suicide prevention. He is confirming some of the discussions I have been having, starting with chaplains in Italy and Germany, and then continued with you all and chaplains at Ft Jackson. tc

Thanks for the interest in this area. As you can imagine there is a whirwind of activity around this topic right now. The observation of high school vs. later year enlistees is in fact reliable, although some will try to explain it away through other factors. The Army rate is the highest among the services and a concerted effort of Army and DoD agencies is finally beginning to develop and rely upon statistical analysis and measurements to get a broader and at the same time more specific handle on this entire phenomena. Although the stress remains high for Families and Soldiers, many suicides are occuring with Soldiers who have never deployed. This begs the question of what additional factors - rather than the immediate focus of deployment - contribute to suicidal ideation, attempts and completions. Actually, as morbid as it sounds, it is a fascinating subject.

For instance, we have wrestled with the idea of the decline in the importance of the Church as an institution to condemn suicide as a means of ending ones own life and/or pain. Rather, culturally it seems we have quasi-adopted the stoic warrior mentality, thus being more accepting of suicide.

I just completed reading a book by Thomas Joiner entitled, "Why People Die by Suicide", (Harvard Univ Press). Some very current research and theory on this topic. Absolutely riveting discussion regarding burdensomeness and feeling valued/loved as indicators or warning signs of increased risk of death by suicide.

Sorry for going on, but a very compelling and interesting research area, in addition to developing methods to save lives.

I didn't quite understand from your chaplain, was he saying that young high sch enlistees with less a value system were more likely to take their own lives than an older more seasoned soldier. So, if soldiers are committing suicide apart from the stresses of deployments, etc., this means they are bringing this into the service with them . Consequently, we/rexruiters are not catching or seeing this before they get in or they are and are choosing to ignore.

I'm going to order the book he mentioned. In terms of discussion, I can't help but contrast the breast cancer survivors that I've been volunteering by driving them to treatment and their attitudes. They will do almost anything to survive; suffer any pain, indignity and yet here are these youngsters, lives ahead of them and they do themselves in.

I think that my theory might be just as good as any now that I'm thinking about it. However, although the military would not adopt it as they always want an answer or take the Marine philosophy, a two day class, problem solved. But, I believe that most who take their lives momentarily go crazy. They are walking across the GG Bridge and suddenly get the impulse to jump. Their lives are not where they want it to be. Money problems, wife or family difficulties, whatever, they lose it, they jump. And unfortunately, if they are successful in their attempt, there is no turning back.
GusDavis Aughtry


Sunday, March 08, 2009


I have talked to a few of our chaplains concerning the suicide increase. In summary, most attribute it to the following….not necessarily in order

1) Post-war traumatic Stress

2) Break down in family relationships. (Divorce among military Married Couples is at an all time high

3) Too many “hardship” tours

4) Overwork/stress/lack of sleep dpp

Dave, this is good. Thanks. It is interesting to me whether the calibers of the Volunteer Army has anything to do with it. The stuff I read indicates that for those who are prone to suicide, the more emotionally sophisticated they are, the quicker they will seek help. Many who take their lives probably do so because of some or all of the reasons you mentioned, yet if they don't seek help, is it because they are less emotionally sophisticated, i. e., possibly come from lower socio economic classes ( which is the elephant in the room that we never talk about).

When we had a draft army, mixed in with the kids from all walks of life were doctors and lawyers and Indian chiefs sons. Now, they are not there, I don't think or are they? gda

I wouldn’t doubt that there is truth to what you say. The problem is…it is not measurable and very difficult to identify. I would suspect another factor is the lack of a faith commitment. The highest percentage of enlistees are non-churches…so say the chaplains. Having said that there are a significant number who are coming to faith in Christ, attending Bible Studies, etc. Also, the troops seem to be doing a fantastic job, highly motivated, etc. dpp