Mental Health/Wellness National Guard/Reserve Political/News

National Guard Struggles With Highest Suicide Rates of Military

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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.

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3 thoughts on “National Guard Struggles With Highest Suicide Rates of Military”

  1. My husband is a former 'regular Army' officer. After leaving active duty in 1992, he joined the National Guard as an NCO. The company of National Guard soldiers that he was assigned to were deployed to Iraq in late 2005 and returned home in late 2006. I don't know if the previous service history of the troops that comprised his unit was similar with other units or not. They were a non-combat unit; a Combat Support Equipment company that was well know for its ability to clean up during and after natural disasters. The unit he deployed with had never been deployed to a combat zone before; in its entire history, it had only been deployed stateside. (THAT is the mission of the National Guard.) The number of soldiers who had seen active duty was around five percent. I believe there were 3 soldiers who had been deployed into combat before. One of the things that always amazes me is the references to the 'young men and women' that are deployed. Yes, in active duty troops, it is usually troops under the age of 45. Not so in Reserve Component troops. Many stay in until they are 60 years old. You are deployable until the time that you would still be less than age 60, at the end of your tour. In the gun truck my husband usually operated in, he was very often the youngest service member. He was pushing 50, at the time. Age does matter on the battlefield; war is a young man’s game. So, the 122nd CSE Company of the SCNG was sent to Iraq. (The company has since been designated.) They do their time, complete there mission with one of the best records of any others serving similar missions, at that time. In preparation for their return, spouses attend a brief meeting that touches on problems that may occur when their troop returns and some emergency numbers. The troops finally returned to Ft Stewart in Georgia to begin the process of returning to the status of non active duty soldiers. The day after they get off the plane, they are asked many questions to assess their mental status. Let's think about the timing of that. They have been on American soil for 24 or so hours. Most are sleep deprived from the trip. The main thing on their minds is that they are HOME. I think it is fair to say, they do not know what they feel or how they feel. A few days later, they are back in SC. If I am remembering correctly, they had to go to the armory for a few days. Then, I believe, they did not have to go to drill for a couple of months. They were not re-assessed. They should have been. My husband retired 7 months after they returned. There may have been some sort of assessment after he retired, that I am unaware of.I see several problems with the way things are handled and why the Reserve Component troops are different and why they should be treated differently after being in a combat zone. National Guard troops do not see each other daily, as active duty troops do. Their peers and their leaders go weeks without observing each other. Most drills are held over a weekend, about 8 hours a day. That is 16 hours on a 2 day drill weekend or 24 hours if it happens to be a 3 day drill. They see their buddies, laughing, catching up, seeming doing great. If a troop is struggling, they will try to hide it during drill. Most of the time they are successful. No one wants to be seen as unable to cope. Many self medicate with booze or drugs.As I previously noted, many are "older". Very often they have long before lost the "I am invincible" mentality, when things just roll off without making much of an internal scar. They have a different respect for human life. Many have grandchildren. They have personally lost more family members and friends in their lives. How they perceive and internalize "justified" death and destruction is very different. You have to approach them differently than you would a young troop to have them let you know how they feeling. These troops do not live, eat and breathe military. These troops do not usually live near military bases, where services are offered. They have to take time off from their civilian jobs to get to the help. Often, they cannot afford to do so. Their neighbors and friends are not military. Their spouse's network of friends is not usually other military spouses. They most often do not see their National Guard brothers and sisters struggling. They feel (and very often are) isolated and alone. They do not really know what to do to get help; how to start the process. Yes, the numbers may be on the refrigerator magnet, in the pile of paperwork they brought home one day, and on the bulletin board at the armory. However, to use those phone numbers means putting themselves into the military bureaucracy. Most do not want to do that; most have never really understood it, because it isn't their day-to-day life. They have heard the stories the massive amount of red tape involved in getting help. Of clicking through the different queues, when they just need help, right now. If they are lucky, they trust someone who does understand; someone who can help them find and traverse the military services that are available. Sadly, for too many that isn't the norm. I hope the statistics will change. I hope the methods the military uses to assess these troops will be overhauled. I hope the military as a whole realizes their treatment methods of PTSD still have many flaws. Often they see different caseworker each time; have to repeat the same information, time and time again. I know. My husband has PTSD; he utilizes the VA for treatment. We have good friends that he served with that are still struggling to find a treatment that even comes close to working for them. My husband’s phone has rang too many times with calls from a soldier that we feared would not make it through the night. Copperhead 2-3 has long ceased being part of the National Guard. However, he remains a soldier, fighting to help other former soldiers get the services they need. While he will never stop fighting, it should not be his battle to fight. I fear (but expect) the day when one of them does not make it through the night. I fear how that will affect MY soldier.

  2. I’ve known this for a long time. Reservist and national guard have no access to va benefits as active duty counterpart cut and dry. No support yet expected to deploy and serve years on a contract similar to active duty.

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