How to Recognize a Suicidal Soldier

Look for signs of stress

Look for signs of stress

One hundred and twenty-eight (128) soldiers committed suicide in 2008, and another fifteen cases are pending. This is a record number of suicides over the past three decades since the Army has been keeping records. This year, 2009, the Army appears to be headed toward a new record for suicides within ranks.

In January alone, nearly two dozen confirmed or suspected suicides were confirmed – a total that may top the number of soldiers killed in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army said the total number of potential or confirmed suicides since January stands at 82. While the Army cannot determine why suicide rates are so high, they have their suspicions after searching for some answers.

In some cases, it has been determined that the problem is based in unhealthy and risky behavior. While soldiers are encouraged to take risks during combat, this behavior seems to spill over into private life – but, soldiers are taking the wrong types of risks when they’re off duty.

Additionally, failed marriages, financial problems, military disciplinary actions and upcoming deployments may add to the stress. When drugs and alcohol are added to the mix, a lethal decision-making process may ensue.

According to one CNN article, the Army implemented a service-wide effort to combat the suicide problem in January. This effort included a stand-down for 1.1 million soldiers who were identified as experiencing signs of distress in the ranks.

Fort Hood, Texas, the largest base in the U.S. that is home to the 4th Infantry Division has seen multiple deployments to Iraq. However, base commander Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch managed to identify one major stress problem on the base:

Soldiers were working long hours and not spending time with their families between deployments…Lynch made “focus on the family” a key part of Fort Hood’s environment. He insists that every soldier on a day schedule leave work in time to be home for dinner by 6 p.m. On Thursday, many are told to leave by 3 p.m. so they can have the afternoon with the family. And no one at Fort Hood works weekends unless Lynch signs off on it.

The steps appear to be working. Although the base has recorded two suicides since the start of the year, that is well below many other major Army bases.

Here are some warning signs for suicide, offered by the Cleveland Clinic:

  • Excessive sadness or moodiness — Long-lasting sadness and mood swings can be symptoms of depression, a major risk factor for suicide.
  • Sudden calmness — Suddenly becoming calm after a period of depression or moodiness can be a sign that the person has made a decision to end his or her life.
  • Withdrawal — Choosing to be alone and avoiding friends or social activities also are possible symptoms of depression. This includes the loss of interest or pleasure in activities the person previously enjoyed.
  • Changes in personality and/or appearance — A person who is considering suicide might exhibit a change in attitude or behavior, such as speaking or moving with unusual speed or slowness. In addition, the person might suddenly become less concerned about his or her personal appearance.
  • Dangerous or self-harmful behavior — Potentially dangerous behavior, such as reckless driving, engaging in unsafe sex, and increased use of drugs and/or alcohol might indicate that the person no longer values his or her life.
  • Recent trauma or life crisis — A major life crises might trigger a suicide attempt. Crises include the death of a loved one or pet, divorce or break-up of a relationship, diagnosis of a major illness, loss of a job, or serious financial problems.
  • Making preparations — Often, a person considering suicide will begin to put his or her personal business in order. This might include visiting friends and family members, giving away personal possessions, making a will, and cleaning up his or her room or home. Some people will write a note before committing suicide.
  • Threatening suicide — Not everyone who is considering suicide will say so, and not everyone who threatens suicide will follow through with it. However, every threat of suicide should be taken seriously.

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