In a unusual move Fort Campbell, home of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, is holding a three-day “suicide stand-down training event”. There have been 11 confirmed deaths from suicide at Fort Campbell and 64 confirmed or suspected suicides in the entire Army this year. In 2008 there were at least 133 suicides of Army personnel. 2009 is on track to exceed the number of suicides in 2008. The “stand-down” event is designed to call an alert to mental health issues, especially suicide, at all levels within the Army. A recent incident in Baghdad earlier this month in which a career Army sergeant killed five other soldiers has served to highlight the significant mental health issues faced by military personnel. The military culture has not been supportive of mental health and substance abuse issues in the past which has left soldiers to struggle alone with their personal problems, often with disastrous consequences.
Can the Army turn its culture around to show that seeking mental health help is not a sign of weakness? We know that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a tremendous toll on the lives of soldiers and their families. We have seen a significant increase in mental health and substance abuse admissions at our hospital of family members of military personnel and in returning Army reserve and National Guard troops. Can the Army focus its resources on early detection and prevention as well as in maintaining ongoing resources? It will take far more than a “three day stand-down”.