“Suicide Rate Doubles for Army National Guard,” CNN headline in 2001.
“Why National Guard and Reservist Suicide Numbers May Be Misleading,” At War Blog, NY Times, 2013.
“Reserve, Guard Soldiers Committing Suicide at a Higher Rate,” Defense One article, 2014.
These are only a few of the headlines that come up when you type ‘National Guard suicide rates’ into your search engine…
National Guard Struggles With Highest Suicide Rates of Military:
It is difficult to wrap your head around the startling fact that among service members, National Guard and Reservists have the highest suicide numbers. On January 16th of this year the Pentagon released their annual report on Military Suicide, stating the rate of suicide (per 100,000 SM’s) was 23.4 and 28.9, a startling difference to the active duty component which is 18.7. These are young, enlisted, educated, both married and unmarried, service members. Most are male, but there are female service members in those statistics as well. But perhaps what is most upsetting is that when you consider how data is collected, there must be consideration for those that don’t make it into that data. Perhaps someones military status, especially as a reservist/National Guard, isn’t known right away or is merely an afterthought when reported. So now what?
One of the best ways to combat suicide is education. That isn’t to say that there is one easy/quick fix. The many factors that contribute to suicide are often deep rooted and complex. But educating yourself on the signs and the best way to care for yourself or someone in that situation is a start.
Real Warriors is a non-profit developed for active, guard, reserve, family members and health professionals. Created on the premise that real warriors talk about what is really happening. Admitting you are struggling doesn’t make you any less of a warrior; something that Real Warriors has realized is a major issue in the culture of the military. You are the best of the best and you can handle whatever happens. If you admit that you are struggling with any type of mental health issues, then you are unfit to continue on. And while none of this is true, this is something that continues to be a mantra carried on by service members. This is also a huge resource for family members and I urge everyone, regardless of whether or not there is the presence of depression, to spend some time on this site. Educate yourselves. As spouses and family of our service members we also have the power to help care for our loved ones. Be the eyes and ears and encouragement. Resources like Ready Airman and Wingman Project are great to share with your airmen spouses, friends and family (but are useful to other branches). They both have excellent apps so that the information is right at your fingertips. The Army Knowledge Online site is a great way to begin your education as well. It offers free ACE training (Ace, Care, Escort) and more information on increasing your knowledge on Suicide. Even if you think you know, arming yourself is extremely important.
After education comes change, and I firmly believe that. I’m proud to say that I believe the military, as slow as it is to change, is moving towards change. Talk is cheap, we can sit around the room as advocate’s, spouses and non-profits, talking about what it is we would do to make changes; but that does almost nothing unless you jump in and make the change. More steps are being taken by larger groups and organizations to increase education and prevention as well.
Earlier this year a major move was made on Capitol Hill. The Clay Hunt Act was signed by President Obama. There are three goals to this act:
1) Increased access to mental health through a peer and community support pilot program and a one-stop, easy access website for Veterans to access.
2) A pilot program that will hopefully entice more psychiatry students to work within the VA by paying their student loans.
3) Require an annual review of the VA’s suicide prevention and mental health programs, creating better accountability.
It sounds nice and I pray that these things come about smoothly and swiftly, but that takes time. Time just isn’t something that we have lying around. The White House is also doing their part through the Joining Force Initiative. Medical schools like are partnering together to provide training to health care professionals in the community so that they can better provide assistance to military families and service members. Going further than that, schools like UMass, are joining together with state Guard units to create amazing partnerships on a local level. National Guard Units across the country are taking a more serious stance on this subject, and programs like that between UMass and the Massachusetts National Guard is the way we are going to make those real changes.
So I challenge you today to arm yourself with knowledge, arm others with that knowledge and don’t be afraid to offer or seek help. Together we all affect change.