Is Military Suicide Preventable?


By now most have heard the news – the suicide rate in the military is climbing and our leaders are calling it an “epidemic.”

And yet one group continues to fall through the cracks: military families.

It’s not a lack of resources. Army post Fort Campbell, for example, has almost 600 individual programs for family members, all aimed in one way or another at reducing stress which, in turn, lowers the risk for suicide. And yet leaders readily admit that they have a problem getting information about the programs out to the people who need it most. Soldiers can be forced to sit through briefings on seeing the signs of suicide risk and stepping up to prevent, but family members cannot (nor should they be).

Those briefings seem like they are starting to work on the soldiers of Fort Campbell. Their suicide rate, while still high, has not climbed over the last few months, even though much of the post is rolling out for Afghanistan. Since the 90 days before deployment is generally a time of more suicides, the fact that there have been virtually none is surprising.

But the families? No one really knows.

Army data shows that the number of Army family member suicides has remained fairly stagnant over the last three years – hovering between 11 and 14 nationwide. And while those are the suicides that have been reported to the Army, it is unlikely that number captures every family member death.

So how do we prevent suicide among military family members? How do we get the “invisible spouses” the emotional tools they need to thrive under stressful circumstances? Or is doing so even possible?

One of the top things we learned from the case of Tamryn Klapheke, who blamed the Air Force’s lack of support for her downward spiral towards suicide that eventually left her toddler dead, her other children hospitalized and her in jail, is that all the programs in the world can’t force someone who doesn’t want help to take it.

We all know – and prevention experts will tell you -- that not every suicide is preventable, but what about some, or even most? Everyone has friends, and every friend can speak-up and step-in when they witness depression.  For example, even though Klapheke committed those horrific crimes against her children, a friend stopped her several weeks previous from committing suicide, she said.

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