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Prevention efforts focus on fostering quality of life, reducing stigma, and creating a culture of lethal means safety.
Today, the Department of Defense (DOD) released the DOD Annual Report on Suicide in the Military: Calendar Year (CY) 2021, providing annual suicide data and outlining Calendar Year 2021 efforts to address and prevent suicide across the DOD.
According to the report, in CY 2021, 519 Service members died by suicide with young, enlisted male Service members found to be at greatest risk. The Annual Report shows that the suicide rates for Active Component Service members have gradually increased since 2011, although the 2021 rate is lower than in 2020. Reserve and Guard suicide rates fluctuated year-to-year across 2011-2021, with no increasing or decreasing trend. Additionally, in CY 2020, the report found that 202 dependents died by suicide, including 133 spouses and 69 other dependents, and that firearms were the primary method of suicide death for both Service members and family members.
“Taking care of our people is a top priority of the Secretary of Defense and this report guides the Department as we seek to eliminate suicide across our military community,” said Elizabeth Foster, Executive Director, Office of Force Resiliency. “While it is encouraging to see the active component suicide rate decrease from 2020 to 2021, one such tragedy is too many, and we must redouble our efforts to prevent these deaths. As Secretary Austin has emphasized, “mental health is health, and so we must continue to work to break down barriers to help seeking, address stigma, and build healthy climates and a culture of connection where all our Service members can thrive.”
Alongside the data, the report outlines the Department’s efforts in CY2021 to advance a comprehensive and integrated primary prevention approach to suicide prevention with a focus on 3 key areas – fostering a supportive environment and quality of life, addressing stigma as a barrier to help-seeking, and promoting a culture of lethal means safety.
Department efforts to address harmful behaviors, including self-harm, led to the establishment of a brand-new, dedicated and specialized prevention workforce designed to decrease the risk factors and increase certain protective factors at a community level to prevent suicide deaths. Efforts also include the implementation of the On-Site Installation Evaluations, which will assist with targeting our efforts and resources more effectively. The Department has developed plans and toolkits to: promote lethal means safety, expand Counseling on Access to Lethal Means (CALM), which provides training on safe use and storage of firearms and medications, and address economic challenges and quality of life issues that can increase suicide risk. Finally, the Department increased community dialogue with the “Connect to Protect: Support is Within Reach” year-long communication campaign, Service member education on the availability and benefits of support resources, and continues to work with DoD partners to address stigma toward help-seeking and the perceived effect on security clearances.
“The Department remains committed and focused on a comprehensive and integrated approach to suicide prevention in the military,” said Foster. “In 2021, we took concrete steps to support Service members and their families especially by fostering a supportive environment and quality of life, addressing stigma as a barrier to help-seeking, and promoting a culture of lethal means safety. We are continuing to expand those efforts in 2022.”
To access Department of Defense Annual and Quarterly Suicide Reports go to: https://www.dspo.mil/.
Service members and veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a Service member or veteran in crisis, can call the Veterans/Military Crisis Line for confidential support available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Call 988 and Press 1, text 988 or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.
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