Military Suicides Rising, Prevention Programs at All-Time High

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COLUMBIA - The number of military suicides is rising. There are more suicide prevention resources in 2013 than ever before, yet active-duty military suicides have doubled in the past decade. Last year 350 suicides were reported, according to a Pentagon study.

Within the U. S. Navy, 52 suicides were reported in 2011, with the majority between the ages of 18 and 30. Navy veteran and Columbia resident Elizabeth Picray served six years with the navy and witnessed a few shipmates commit suicide. Picray said this kind of "unexpected mortality" takes a toll on the other shipmates.

"Here's this guy that never even said anything to you and he's gone," Picray said.

Picray revealed the emotional impact of losing a shipmate plus the emotional trauma the person who found the suicide victim is beyond what anyone can imagine.

"His division now has to cover his work load, in addition to the emotional strain they're now carrying because their battle buddy just killed himself," Picray said.

"Suicide is never a good option and the problem is, I think, people get tunnel vision, where they can only see the problem and not the solution," Picray added.

One officer at Whiteman Air Force Base, Major Mekil Merritt, said the military is a subset of the American population, "So when there is an increase in suicides among the civilian population, we see a rise in suicides in the military population."

One benefit active duty military service members and veterans have is access to Military OneSource, a web site and hotline. In addition Merritt said military members can reach out to the nearest medical treatment facility, report to an emergency room, and access national suicide hotlines.

"They can certainly speak with a chaplain on base, a military family life consultant, which is another place they can seek mental health assistance in a confidential fashion, or coming to a mental health clinic and speaking with mental health professionals," Merritt added.

Harry S Truman Veterans' Hospital suicide prevention coordinator Kathryn Crews said the hospital has doubled its resources in the past six years.

"We've increased our numbers, at least doubled, in every center to include a case manager," Crews said.

According to a VA study, the most influential resource is the Military Crisis Line, also known as Veteran Crisis Line, getting more than 22 percent of all calls to a national suicide crisis line and provides the only national suicide chat service.

Heather Barnett, director of life crisis services for the hotline, said the crisis line is successful because it connects the individual in need to a nearby mental health clinician 24/7.

"Our crisis workers are free to listen, provide resources and referrals in the caller's community, offer follow-up to at-risk callers, and deploy emergency services if necessary," Barnett said.

In 2011, 287 active-duty men and women committed suicide. Twenty-nine were on deployment at the time.

Picray said many of her shipmates took to alcohol to cope with the stress.

"On that ship before I left, almost the entire division was drinking itself to blackout every weekend, so I spoke up with the command about this being a potential suicide problem," Picray said.

The VA's current initiatives for suicide prevention are:

• a 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line
• a suicide prevention coordinator or team at each VA medical center
• employee education programs to learn the signs and centers developed to research, education, and clinical practice in the area of suicide prevention.

The number for the Military Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255, then press 1.

Other places service members and veterans can find help in mid-Missouri include the MU Veterans Center, Vet 4 Warriors, Warrior Program or discover an organization in the VSO Directory.