We need a new approach to suicide prevention. The current one is simply not working. On April 1st, the Defense Suicide Prevention Office released the 4th Quarter, Calendar Year 2015 Suicide Statistics for service members across the active and reserve components. The results are not good. The numbers are trending in the wrong direction. Maybe we need to start doing something different. If we continue to rely on government systems and bureaucracy to solve this problem, should we be surprised if we see the same, disappointing results? But there is hope. We can work together and solve this problem.
The 2015 Suicide Event Data
The total number of suicides from 2013 combining the active and reserve components was 474. Although suicides dropped in 2014 to 443, the number across active and reserve components increased to 475. However, the rate of suicide per 100,000 increased due to the drawdown across all services. In 2013, the suicide rate was 21.4. In 2014, the rate dropped to 20.5. This past year the rate increased to 22.2. The suicide rate for 2015 represents a 4% increase from the rate in 2013 and almost a 9% increase compared to the suicide rate last year. The take away from all these statistics is that the suicide rate is trending in the wrong direction (data taken from Table 1 in Attachment A of the report).
The Defense Suicide Prevention Office
In 2011, the Department of Defense created the Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO). This agency was formed in response to the increasing number of suicides across the active and reserve components. Since the creation of this office, the suicide rate increased despite more than 900 prevention programs. In 2015, the Inspector General released a report that concluded a lack of coordination across the services and an absence of evidence-based research on and implementation for suicide prevention programs. The headlines after the report suggested that the DPSO was in disarray.
In response to the suicide epidemic, we expanded government and we started spending money. Lots of it. We completed reports. Lots of them. We are still conducting studies. We have more than 900 programs. We have classes. We have metrics and standards for tracking high risk individuals across our military organizations. We have a whole lot of all of these things. What we lack is success in the only metric that matters – the number of service members who succumb to suicide.
So, what do we do? Do we need to spend more money? Do we need more oversight? Maybe what we need is a different approach to solve this problem. Maybe we need to stop the insanity.
A New Approach
We have been using the wrong tool to solve this problem. Government is really good at implementing systems and providing oversight. Creativity and personal connection are not among the strengths of government. Bureaucracies are also not really good at catering to individual needs. Unfortunately, when it comes to this complex problem, the solution requires a creative approach, and every event is very personal. Maybe the way to discover the solution to this problem is by leveraging a personal approach to discover those resources that work. Maybe we need to retain the creativity and the agility of smaller, less encumbered organizations to shift the approach as we learn and discover those resources.
Our vision is to offer service members and Veterans a path out from darkness and despair. We offer the hope of empowerment to Veterans and their families. This what we can do, and we want your help. We can provide the compassion our Veterans need, and we can harness our collective ingenuity and creativity to find this answer. Maybe that is what we need to see these numbers shrink.
With a different approach, we can do this. We all care deeply about this problem. Allow that passion to be your inspiration, the inspiration to offer our Veterans and their families the quality of life they have earned.