The Army’s suicide problem is getting worse.
While the number of U.S. soldiers taking their own lives hit an all-time high last year, the suicide rate topped last year’s astounding figures, Army officials say. But recently, those officials point out, there has been a downward trend, suggesting that the military is realizing some success in dealing with the matter.
Since the beginning of the year, 140 active-duty soldiers and 71 Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers have killed themselves, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, U.S. Army vice chief of staff, said Tuesday. However, he noted, the monthly numbers have begun to slow as we round out the year.
"This is horrible, and I do not want to downplay the significance of these numbers in any way," Chiarelli said.
Citing U.S. Army data, CNN reports that for all of 2008, 140 active-duty soldiers killed themselves while 57 Guard and Reserve soldiers committed suicide. The issue is a difficult one for the Army.
"We still haven't found any statistically significant causal linkage that would allow us to effectively predict human behavior. The reality is, there is no simple answer -- each suicide case is as unique as the individuals themselves," Chiarelli told CNN.
Compounding the conundrum, Chiarelli said, is the rise in suicide rates among young soldiers who have never deployed. Generally, the shock of war has been seen as a trigger for self-inflicted death, as well as the alarming rise in the abuse of prescription drugs and alcohol.
Still, Chiarelli told CNN, there is some positive news.
"I do believe we are finally beginning to see progress being made," he said. "The general trend line with the exception of a couple of months has been down."
"We attribute this reduction in the number of suicides to the many actions we have taken since February to inform and educate leaders and soldiers on this important issue," Chiarelli said, reminding about such initiatives as the establishment of a suicide prevention task force and a day off from official duties to focus on suicide prevention. In addition, he noted that the service has implemented its Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program, giving every soldier a mental assessment twice a year in the same style the Army tests soldiers for fitness.
"It gives the same emphasis to psychological, emotional and mental strength that we have previously given to physical strength," Chiarelli said.