The Growing Problem of Military Suicides


U.S. veterans are dying by suicide at an alarming pace.

The national veteran suicide rate was almost 30 per 100,000 people in 2015, or about 20 deaths every day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The age-adjusted rate of suicide among veterans increased more than 30 percent from 2005 to 2015, compared to an almost 20 percent increase among the non-veteran population. Female veterans in particular saw a 45 percent spike over that time period.

“Military life is hard for a variety of reasons, including an increased exposure to trauma, frequent moves that disrupt one’s social support networks and prolonged separations due to deployments,” said Carl Castro, associate professor, retired U.S. Army colonel and director for USC’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families (CIR).

To address climbing suicide rates among active-duty service members and veterans, the USC Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society (CAIS), in collaboration with USC CIR and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering External link , will use artificial intelligence to examine engagement on social networks by military personnel to identity risks such as depression and anxiety.

“If we could collect data on people over a period of time, we could look at changes in their social networks to understand when and where and at what moments people become more at risk of suicide,” said Eric Rice, USC CAIS co-founder and associate professor at the MSW@USC.

Researchers will interview 200 to 300 soldiers during their six-month deployments and the next six months at home. They will watch for changes to social networks and engagement with battalion members to identify signs of suicidal thinking and potentially develop new interventions. To hear more from Dr. Rice, listen to “Listen.Up.People.,” a new podcast from the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work which highlights the topic of suicide as a public health crisis in the first episode.

How is suicide affecting the veteran population? The MSW@USC, the online Master of Social Work program at USC, answers this and other frequently asked questions about veteran suicide below. Visit the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work Military and Veterans Programs page to learn more about what the school is doing to advance the health and well-being of our nation’s service members, veterans and their families.

The MSW@USC is the Online Master of Social Work program at the University of Southern California, which opens doors to fulfilling careers across a range of fields, such as mental health, family counseling, and military and community advocacy. This post originally appeared here on the MSW@USC blog. 

3 replies »

  1. I think people are like Aspen trees and we need to be conected by our root system…or we die.

  2. It is likely that the phenomena of suicide represents a fundamental disturbance within our general population that is selectively magnified within military life as opposed to municipal life, civil life, or ecclesiastic life. I am reminded of the phenomena during the later phase of the “trip to the moon” goal in the 1960s regarding heart attacks. With every progressive successful stage toward the end goal, there was a brief but substantial number of military personnel with a myocardial infarction. Most of these episodes occurred for persons who had come to a new community with virtually no Social Capital traditions, functioned with a technical skill that was not transferable within society in general, and faced the eventual elimination of their employment with each progressive accomplishment. The phenomena was widely studied.

    So, a person with fundamentally fragile RESILIENCE will act precipitously to eliminate their anguish, given a perceived and suddenly worsening lack of congruity within the living conditions. Professionally, we call this “burn-out.” I would call it a disturbance in their ability to sustain a “family” of Caring Relationships. Remember that a person’s longevity is most accurately predicted by the zip code of their Home.

    Our nation’s failure to mount a nationally sanctioned and locally controlled, new strategy to recharge each community’s level of Social Capital means that we will continue to ignore the Paradigm Paralysis of our nation’s healthcare. As a result, maternal mortality, suicide phenomena and mass shootings will continue to worsen unabated.

    Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: “It’s better for everybody when it gets better for everybody.” One dollar per citizen per year from the beltway would do it. Agriculture has it with its cooperative extension service (since 1914), why not a similar effort reconfigured for population HEALTH?