Senior Army leaders say they have seen a 30% increase in active duty suicides so far this year.
Army officials said discussions in Defense Department briefings indicate there has been a 20% jump in overall military suicides this year. The numbers vary by service. The Army’s 30% spike, from 88 last year to 114 this year pushes the total up because it’s the largest service. Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne Division has endured 10 suicides so far this year, a number that stood at four during the corresponding period last year.
In 2018, six paratroopers in the division took their own lives; four did so in 2017. Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue, who assumed command of the 82nd in July, believes forced periods of isolation and other stressors caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have been major factors.
“There is absolutely a stigma that’s out there,” Donahue said. “And if we don’t acknowledge that, we’re lying.”
The increase has pushed Donahue to make suicide prevention a priority and a frequent topic of conversation within his ranks. James Helis, director of the Army’s resilience programs, said virus-related isolation, financial disruptions and loss of childcare all happening at the same time has strained troops and their families.
“We know that the measures we took to mitigate and prevent the spread of COVID could amplify some of the factors that could lead to suicide,” said Helis. Army leaders also said troops have been under pressure for nearly two decades of war and that deployments compounded by the virus have taken a toll.