But There Isn't An Epidemic Of Suicide In The US Military

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Why are so many doing this? What is wrong?

Tim Worstall – Forbes.com

 

I was very surprised to see this headline in The Guardian today:

 
US military struggling to stop suicide epidemic among war veterans
It’s not all that unusual for The Guardian to snipe at the US military of course, but something about the way the subject was being treated puzzled me.
 

Last year, more active-duty soldiers killed themselves than died in combat.

Is this a story about how much better military medicine has got or one about how the system is driving huge numbers into suicide? The way the paper tells the story it’s that there is indeed some epidemic of suicide sweeping through the ranks of the military and veterans. And my problem is that having looked at the numbers I just don’t see it.
I should of course point out that any and every suicide is a tragedy. Both for the person dying and for those they leave behind. And I would go on and insist that just one suicide is one too many. However, it’s also necessary to note that suicide does indeed happen in all walks of life. What we need to know is whether there are more than the normal number in one specific profession or occupation. Only then can we start to argue that there’s something specific to that occupation that leads to suicide.
For example, with the military: it’s easy enough to postulate that a rise in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will lead to a rise in suicides. Indeed, we’d probably expect such a thing to happen. Thus, as more see combat, more suffer from that stress, we’d see the rate rise.
But before we conclude that this is happening we do in fact need to check and see whether the rate is odd. Is out of order for the society which people come from. And that’s where this story of an epidemic of military suicides rather falls down. The actual suicide rate in the US military seems to be around and about that for the US as a whole. Soldiers and ex-soldiers don’t kill themselves in any greater numbers than the average American does.
Here’s the numbers being quoted:

In 2012, for the first time in at least a generation, the number of active-duty soldiers who killed themselves, 177, exceeded the 176 who were killed while in the war zone. To put that another way, more of America’s serving soldiers died at their own hands than in pursuit of the enemy.

OK: obviously that’s both 177 and 176 too many. But is that 177 something unexpected, out of the ordinary?
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