Suicides among military members have spiked by as much as 20 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the same period last year, data shows.
Senior military officials say they believe that it’s difficult to pinpoint what’s driving the rise, though note that the timing coincides with the stateside outbreak of coronavirus.
Preliminary data had shown for the first three months of 2020 show a dip in military suicides across the active duty and reserves.
“I can’t say scientifically, but what I can say is — I can read a chart and a graph, and the numbers have gone up in behavioral health related issues,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told the Associated Press.
“We cannot say definitively it is because of COVID. But there is a direct correlation from when COVID started, the numbers actually went up.”
The jumps in suicide rates vary among the different branches of service.
Army officials said there was a 30 percent spike among active-duty Army members this year, while the Army Guard is up about 10 percent and the Navy’s rates are believed to be lower.
The Air Force saw suicides among active-duty and reserve members on par with the rate from last year — which was the worst in three decades for active-duty members in the branch.
Gen. Charles Brown, the Air Force chief, noted that pandemic-related stress could be playing a role in the numbers this year, which had also initially seen rates plummet before lockdowns began.
“COVID adds stress,” Brown said in a public remarks. “From a suicide perspective, we are on a path to be as bad as last year. And that’s not just an Air Force problem, this is a national problem because COVID adds some additional stressors – a fear of the unknown for certain folks.”
James Helis, director of the Army’s resilience programs, said that a combination of issues stemming from the pandemic — isolation, financial issues, remote schooling and loss of child care — had placed added stress on service members 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,” Helis said.
Senior officials said they’re looking at changes such as potentially shortening deployments, which have increased because of two-week quarantine periods.
Gen. James McConville, the Army chief of staff, said there’s a new focus on “the time that they need to come back together and recover.”
“We were very focused on readiness four years ago because we had some readiness challenges, and we did a great job. The force is very, very ready now. But I think it’s time now to focus on people,” he told the AP.
With Post wires