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, provided 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 – that about half of them had no known mental health diagnoses (e.g., 50.8 percent in 2017, 52.8 percent in 2016, and 50.2 percent in 2015). 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 decedents. According to the 2017 DoDSER Annual Report, 36.9 percent of service members who died by suicide had relationship problems in the three months before they died and 21.7 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 2017, regardless of whether or not an individual voluntarily disclosed – or was assessed for – suicidal thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, 51.5 percent of service members who died by suicide used some form of military health care in the three months 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. The services provided were not mutually exclusive and, therefore, service members who used more than one type of military health care, would be counted more than once.

  • 45 percent received treatment in a medical treatment facility, not including mental health services
  • 29.4 percent received outpatient mental health services
  • 8.1 percent received substance abuse services
  • 4.9 percent received inpatient mental health services
  • 2.9 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 suicidality in their patients and refer them to mental health specialists whenever suicide may be an issue.