Suicides Still A Problem for U.S. Army

Although the annual suicide rate is down, Army officials are still concerned.

ByABC News
January 18, 2011, 8:12 PM

Jan. 19, 2010 -- Army statistics released Wednesday show the first annual decrease in suicides among active duty soldiers in six years. But the news is tempered by a significant increase in the number of suicides among Army Reservists and National Guardsmen who are not on active duty.

The 156 suicides among active duty soldiers for calendar year 2010 were six less than 2009's record high of 162. National Guardsmen and Army Reservists mobilized to active duty are included in this number.

But a tough year was made even tougher as the number of suicides among National Guardsmen and Army reservists not on active duty were almost double what they were in 2009.

The Army keeps a separate record of suicides among Army reservists and National Guardsmen who have not been mobilized. There were 145 suicides among these citizen soldiers in 2010, up from 80 suicides in 2009.

The increase in suicides among these citizen soldiers has been of mounting concern to senior Army officials who worry about the access to mental health professionals these reservists may not have in the civilian sector.

Army vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli said reducing suicides within its ranks is a top priority for the Army and that he is seeing signs of progress in the Army's significant efforts at suicide prevention. As the Army's suicide numbers have risen steadily the past five years it has launched broad campaigns to raise awareness about suicidal behavior and increasing access to behavioral health specialists.

"I believe unequivocally that there would be higher numbers if we did not have the focus of the leadership and the programs that we've rolled out to get at this problem," he said. "I've got to believe that the involvement of our leadership and the programs that we've rolled out have saved soldiers' lives."

But trying to stem the increase in suicides among reservists and national guardsmen not serving on active duty is a much more difficult challenge for the Army given how infrequently these soldiers have contact with colleagues or leaders who might be able to identify suicidal behavior