Rising concerns over military suicides

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The issue of military suicides has become increasingly alarming, with recent reports indicating that the number of suicides among current and former service members has surpassed the number of deaths in combat.

Dr. Rebecca Blais, a clinical psychologist at ASU, is actively involved in addressing this crisis. Dr. Blais contributed to a Department of Defense report, where she explored the connection between military sexual assaults and increased suicide risks, seeking effective interventions.

The study revealed a concerning uptick in military suicides over the past two decades, with service members now facing a higher risk of death by suicide compared to civilians. Dr. Blais highlighted the complexity of understanding this trend, citing evolving warfare environments, diverse demographics within the military, and changing societal attitudes toward veterans as contributing factors.

Dr. Blais’s research team conducted extensive investigations, reviewing policies, visiting high-risk military installations, and interviewing over 2,500 individuals to gain insights into the root causes of military suicides. They identified key areas for improvement, including the need for enhanced communication about suicide, particularly among service members in positions of authority.

One notable recommendation from the study was to implement measures to address access to firearms, considering the unique background and training of military personnel. Rather than restricting gun ownership outright, the focus was on introducing delay periods for firearm purchases to allow for reflection and assessment of mental well-being.

Moreover, the study emphasized the importance of supporting families within the military community, especially as dual-career military families become more prevalent. Challenges such as deployments and childcare responsibilities can exacerbate stressors, underscoring the need for comprehensive family support programs.

Addressing the issue of sexual assaults within the military was also a significant aspect of the study. Dr. Blais noted an increase in reporting of such incidents, indicating a shift towards greater awareness and willingness to seek justice. However, she highlighted the importance of addressing the stigma and consequences associated with reporting sexual assaults to ensure victims receive appropriate support and protection.

Following the study, the Department of Defense has initiated plans to implement 87 recommendations aimed at addressing the underlying causes of military suicides and improving support systems for service members and their families. Dr. Blais emphasized the critical role of effective communication and support in combating this pressing issue, urging leaders to prioritize mental health and suicide prevention efforts within the military ranks.

Dr. Rebecca Blais, Assoc. Professor of Psychology, ASU.

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