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Navy suicides drop from peak in '12

Culture change helping sailors overcome, act

Feb. 2, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
A new Navy suicide prevention program urges sailors to speak up and seek guidance. Sailors throughout the fleet are encouraged to work together to recognize suicidal tendencies and behavior. Here, a poster from the effort.
A new Navy suicide prevention program urges sailors to speak up and seek guidance. Sailors throughout the fleet are encouraged to work together to recognize suicidal tendencies and behavior. Here, a poster from the effort. (MC3 Diana Quinlan / Navy)
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Ending a trend

The Navy’s suicide rate had its largest drop in 2013 since the service began tracking the statistic in 2001, but it remains the fourth-highest yearly rate over that span:

YearSuicidesRate per 100,000 sailors
20014010.0
20024510.9
20034410.8
20044010.0
2005379.5
20063810.1
20074011.1
20083911.0
20094613.1
20103911.1
20115214.6
20125916.6
20134412.4
Source: Navy

The Navy made great strides in driving down the number of sailor suicides last year, a success officials credit to more robust awareness programs and the fleet.

The Navy suicide rate hit a record high in 2012, and was lower in 2013— but still remains too high, officials say.

“We’re seeing positive signs and the trend is down, though we’re far, far away from doing any kind of end-zone dance or spiking the football or claiming we have any total solution to suicide,” said Rear Adm. Sean Buck, who heads the Navy’s 21st Century Sailor office for the chief of naval personnel.

The Navy tracks suicide numbers by calendar year, and in 2013, the Navy says 44 active-duty sailors took their own lives — 12.4 out of every 100,000.

That’s down from 2012, when the Navy had 59 suicides, or 16.6 per 100,000 sailors — the highest rate since tracking began in 2001.

In pure numbers, the 2013 suicide numbers tally is the lowest since calendar year 2008, when 39 sailors took their own lives.

The Navy’s 2013 rate is equal to the latest available nationwide rate on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, which stood at 12.4 per 100,000 in 2010. The national rate for males 17 to 60 — which Defense Department officials use as a metric to measure against armed forces figures — was 25.1 per 100,000 in 2010, up from 21.8 in 2001.

There were 349 military suicides in 2012, according to Pentagon figures , the highest number since records have been kept.

Though the numbers can be used to illustrate the problem and progress, Buck emphasizes that it’s really not about numbers at all.

“As far as I’m concerned — and I believe we’re all concerned — one suicide is too many,” he said. “And though it’s probably not a reality that we’ll ever get to zero — we should constantly be seeking ways to drive that number as low as we can.”

And for that, he says it’s shipmates and tuned-in leadership that makes the difference on the deck plates every day. “It's about people caring for others,” he said. “Acting upon what they hear and see, caring about shipmates, 24/7.”

The stigma of asking for help for suicidal feelings is nearly gone from the service Buck says, adding that many sailors have survived not only suicidal thoughts, but also suicide attempts and have returned to the ranks to have and finish productive careers and lives.

“Back when I came in the service, if someone self-reported having thought or made an attempt, we would take that shipmate by the hand and get them the help they needed,” Buck said. “But we wouldn’t necessarily invite them back to serve with us, either — those days are gone.”

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