When an Army official says "This is terrifying. We do not know what's going on," there's a problem. It may be looking at the grimmest suicide statistics yet. If the seven confirmed suicides plus 17 pending cases are compared to the 16 combat deaths in January, it seems the Army's previous fear may be reality: more deaths by suicide than combat.
Col. Kathy Platoni, the Army's chief psychologist, cites Winter weather for the sudden rise, but with four suicides last January, that seems tangential at best. More likely, she says, the culprit is multiple deployments, disrupted mental-health care, and the stigma attached to taking antidepressants and seeking therapy.
After record suicide numbers in 2008 (128), the Army is taking more precautions. It will soon begin screening all soldiers to identify those at risk for suicide. A program launching this month will help soldiers recognize suicide signs and employ intervention methods, and another in the Spring will focus on prevention. New training will also prepare soldiers and families to cope with war before, during, and after deployment.
While encouraging, these steps seem so basic and obvious, I do wonder what they did before.