Suicides among U.S. military members have spiked this year, with an average of one suicide a day — the highest rate so far during a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to new Pentagon figures, 154 military service members committed suicide during the first 155 days of this year. During the same period, ending June 3, 136 U.S. troops died in combat in Afghanistan, according to icasualties.org, a website that tracks combat casualties.
The upsurge in suicides comes after the military suicide rate leveled off in 2010 and 2011. Although most Army suicides are of soldiers who have not deployed to war zones, Army studies have found that multiple combat tours are a high risk factor for suicide. Other factors include post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, marriage and financial stress, and drug and alcohol abuse.
Military suicide rates soared in 2009 before tapering off as the military began instituting programs encouraging service members to seek help for mental health issues, including suicide, and expanding treatment options.
The 154 suicides through June 3 this year was 24 more than during the same period last year – an 18% increase – according to an Associated Press analysis of Pentagon figures. The military had projected 136 suicides for the 2012 period based on rates in previous years, the AP reported.
This year’s totals are 25% higher than during the same period in 2010, and 16% higher than the same period in 2009 – the worst year so far for military suicides.
The Pentagon has said it is attempting to eliminate the stigma within the military that any admission of psychological or physical problems is a sign of weakness.
“By achieving a cultural change that encourages help-seeking behaviors, we will be postured to more effectively combat suicide within our ranks," Brig. Gen. Barrye L. Price, head of the Army's human resources policy, said when suicide statistics were released last month.
[For the Record, 12:24 p.m. June 8: An earlier version of this post said that, during the first 155 days of this year, 139 U.S. troops died in combat in Afghanistan. The correct figure is 136.]