Suicide Risk

Suicide Risk Resources for Providers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a June 2019 issue of National Vital Statistics Reports, reported that more than 47,000 Americans died by suicide in 2017. Data from an earlier CDC report  indicated that approximately 54 percent of Americans who died by suicide in 2015 had no known history of a mental health disorder. This is consistent with what the Department of Defense (DoD) Suicide Event Report (DoDSER) Annual Reports have indicated about military suicide decedents for many years – approximately half had no known mental health diagnoses (e.g., 54.7 percent in 2018, 50.8 percent in 2017, and 52.8 percent in 2016). Note, however, that this does not mean that those who died by suicide were not affected by some form of mental health concern; it only means that mental health diagnoses were not recorded in their medical records.

The CDC and DoDSER data are also similar with regard to the relative frequencies with which certain psychosocial stressors in those who die by suicide occur. For example, the CDC found relationship problems in 42.4 percent of those who died by suicide in 2015 and job or financial problems in 16.2 percent of suicide decedents. According to the 2018 DoDSER Annual Report, 39.2 percent of service members who died by suicide had relationship problems in the ninety days before the event and 18.7 percent had recent workplace problems.

Similarities aside, we know that military service members’ lives are generally very different from the lives of civilians. Service members are subject to frequent relocations, overseas deployments, and stressful experiences related to combat and significant time away from their families. The DoD and its partners continue to examine how various military-specific stressors could contribute to suicide-related behaviors and mortality in the force.

In 2018, regardless of whether or not an individual voluntarily disclosed – or was assessed for – suicidal thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, 52.9 percent of service members who died by suicide used some form of military health care or social services in the ninety days prior to death. Among those who accessed military health care, the types of services used ranged from medical to mental health to family assistance, as shown below. Note that some service members used more than one type of health care or social service, so the total will not equal 100 percent.

48.2 percent received treatment in a medical treatment facility, not including mental health services

29.5 percent received outpatient mental health services

9.4 percent received substance abuse services

9.0 percent received inpatient mental health services

5.8 percent received family assistance programs

Although suicide is a serious public health problem, it is preventable. All providers in the Military Health System should be attuned to suicidal ideation and behaviors in their patients and refer them to mental health specialists whenever suicide may be an issue.