Washington— Suicides among active-duty military have increased a bit this year compared with the same period last year, but Pentagon officials say they are encouraged that more service members are seeking help through hotlines and other aid programs.
Pentagon documents show there were 161 confirmed or suspected suicides as of July 14, compared with 154 during the same time frame in 2013. The uptick was among the Air Force and Navy, while soldiers and Marine suicides went down. The documents were obtained by the Associated Press.
While the 2014 numbers are likely to change over time as each death is investigated, the slight increase this year is a reversal in the sharp decline in active-duty suicides last year, compared with 2012.
According to the final report released Tuesday, active-duty suicides dropped by nearly 19 percent in 2013, compared with the previous year, going from 319 to 259. Suicides among National Guard and Reserve members increased by about 8 percent, going from 203 to 220. The AP reported preliminary 2013 numbers in April.
Jacqueline Garrick, director of the Defense Department’s suicide prevention office, said in an interview Tuesday that while there is always a concern when officials see the number start to go up again, it’s still too early to tell because things could change.
She also noted that while often military suicides spike in the summer months, this year the number has gone down in the last month or so.
Alarmed by the steady increase in suicides over the past decade, military officials in recent years beefed up the number of programs and behavioral health specialists available for troops.
Data hasn’t found a definitive link between suicides and service members who deploy to warzones, and officials say that more often the deaths are tied to familiar, societal problems such as financial or job stress and marriage and relationship issues.
Garrick said service members are increasingly using the help programs. For example, she said there has been a 25 percent increase in the calls to the military crisis line. And a website for troops saw a 500 percent increase in visitors after a suicide prevention program linked to it was publicized in late May.
“Whenever we see people reaching out for help,” said Garrick, “That’s a win.”
There have been 70 confirmed and suspected suicides by Army soldiers; 34 by airmen, 21 by Marines and 36 by sailors, according to 2014 data.