18:03 GMT15 August 2020
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    A new US Department of Defense (DoD) report released Thursday, titled the 2018 Annual Suicide Report, reveals that the suicide rate for active-duty US military members in 2018 was the highest ever since the department being tracking suicides in 2001.

    According to the report, 541 active-duty US military members died by suicide last year. Between 2013 and 2018, the suicide rate among active military members increased from 18.5 to 24.8 suicides per 100,000 service members. The report also found that the suicide rates for families of both active-duty and reserve service members “are comparable to US population rates after accounting for age and sex; National Guard rates are higher than US population after similar adjustments.” While active-duty members forego a civilian career, reserve members maintain a civilian career while training for the military.

    The report found that the Army had 139 active-duty member suicides last year, which is equivalent to 24.8 suicides per 100,000 military members. The Marine Corps, the Navy and the Air Force had 31.4, 20.7 and 18.5 deaths per 100,000 members, respectively.

    The report also found that among service members who committed suicide, 60% of active-duty members, 62% of reserve members and almost 70% of National Guard members did so using firearms.

    For the first time ever, the report also released suicide rates among military family members. The rate for military spouses was “9.1 per 100,000 for female and 29.4 per 100,000 for male spouses,” according to Military.com.

    According to the report, the DoD is “committed to preventing suicides within” the military, outlining its “public health approach” to address the issue.

    “This approach focuses on reducing the suicide risk of all service members and their family members by attempting to address the myriad of underlying risk and socio-demographic factors (e.g., reluctance towards help-seeking, relationship problems, access to lethal means), while also enhancing protective factors (e.g., strong social connections, problem-solving, and coping skills),” the report explains.

    The report comes after three Navy sailors on the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush committed suicide last week, bringing the total number of active-duty sailors who took their lives in 2019 to 49.

    On Wednesday, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper called the trend “a national epidemic of suicide among our youth.”

    "And not just our youth, but it's something we continue to wrestle with," he added, speaking to reporters in Norfolk, Virginia, following the deaths of the three sailors.

    According to Elizabeth Van Winkle, executive director for force resiliency in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, additional data is needed to understand why service members commit suicide.

    "Supporting our military personnel is not only a critical mission to the Department of Defense, it is a sacred obligation," Van Winkle said, Military.com reported. "We in the department must do all we can to prevent this tragedy, and we will use the information from this report to inform our efforts."

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    suicide, depression, Military, Department of Defense
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