February 6, 2009 – Seven soldiers committed suicide in January and the cause of death in 17 other cases is still pending, Army officials announced Thursday, marking a significant increase in soldier suicides from the same time period in previous years.
Last month’s numbers are six times higher than those from January 2008 and eight times higher than in 2004. There were two confirmed and two pending cases in January 2008 and no confirmed cases but three pending cases in January 2004.
“Each of these losses is a personal tragedy that is felt throughout the Army family,” Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli said in a statement. “The trend and trajectory seen in January further heightens the seriousness and urgency that all of us must have in preventing suicides.”
Chiarelli is charged with overseeing the Army’s suicide prevention efforts.
Thursday’s announcement comes a week after the Army released its suicide data for 2008. In 2008, 128 soldiers committed suicide, the highest rate in almost 30 years. In addition, the cause of death in 15 other cases is still pending, which means the tally for the year could be as high as 143.
Also last week, Army leaders ordered a servicewide stand-down and beefed up suicide prevention training.
The stand-down will take place over a 30-day period beginning Feb. 15, and during that time commanders will spend two to four hours training their soldiers on issues such as recognizing suicidal behaviors and intervention at the buddy level.
The stand-down will be followed by a chain-teaching program focused on suicide prevention, from March 15 to June 15.
In addition, all 8,400 Army recruiters will stand down Feb. 13 following an investigation into four suicides from the same recruiting battalion in Houston that found poor command climate, personal problems and long, stressful work days were factors in the deaths.
It’s unusual for the Army to release suicide numbers by month, but the spike in last month’s numbers underscored the urgency for Army leaders, said Col. Cathy Abbott, an Army spokeswoman.
The Army only recently began releasing suicide data every quarter instead of once a year.
“We need to help our families and soldiers understand that it’s OK to ask for help,” she said. “It’s a tragedy, [and] we’re doing everything we possibly can to let soldiers know we’re here to help.”