WASHINGTON — The armed forces are facing a growing enemy: suicide.
Three of the four service branches had increases in suicides during 2018, some setting or tying records for such deaths. In addition, suicide for some select military groups — such as special forces — nearly tripled.
Officials in all the branches remain unclear as to the reasons for the increases, but insist the up-tempo deployments of troops is not suspected as a cause.
“I am personally compelled to say something about suicide and mental health,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said in the “Message to the Force 2019,” sent Jan. 25. ”If you need help, please ask/speak up … we will be there for you. Consider the lasting impact on your family, friends, and unit — none of whom will ever truly recover. Don’t choose a permanent solution to a temporary problem that can be resolved with the help of your teammates.”
He is the most senior officer to speak publicly on the subject. “We pride ourselves on building tough, resilient, mission-focused Marines, but we also pride ourselves on taking care of our own. … While there is no dishonor in coming up short or needing help, there is no honor in quitting. MARINES NEVER QUIT ON EACH OTHER!” Neller wrote.
The Marine Corps had 44 verified active-duty suicides last year, with 13 suspected suicides under investigation. There were 18 verified and suspected in the Marine Corps Reserve, according to Marine Corps statistics.
Those numbers exceed the previous high of 59 active-duty and Reserve suicides in 2012.
Suicide in the military received attention last fall with the death of Vice Adm. Scott Stearney, who was found dead in his residence in Bahrain on Dec. 1, 2018. He was the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and the U.S. Fifth Fleet.
His death was determined to be a suicide and was one of 68 by active-duty Navy personnel in 2018, Pentagon data shows.
The Army recorded 138 suicides in 2018 by active-duty troops in 2018, up from 116 in 2017, Pentagon data shows.
Suicides in the Air Force personnel were 61 in the active and reserve force in 2018, unchanged from the previous year, Pentagon data shows.
“We are not satisfied with flat-lined suicide death numbers. The Air Force is dedicated to a comprehensive, leadership-driven strategy with the ultimate goal of supporting airmen and their families early with a robust network and never losing another airman to suicide,” Brig. Gen. Michael Martin, director of Air Force Integrated Resilience, said in a statement to the media.
CNN reported that U.S. Special Operations, which includes such units as Navy SEALs and Army Delta Force, registered 22 suicide deaths in 2018, up from eight cases recorded in 2017.