Suicidal Thoughts Up 7,000% As Reason For U.S. Military Hospitalizations Over Past Five Years

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This surprising chart is contained in a new Pentagon report. “Annual numbers of hospitalizations with primary (first-listed) diagnoses of suicidal ideation at discharge have steadily and sharply increased (from 5 in 2006 to 355 in 2010),” the Pentagon notes. That’s a 7,000% increase in patients who reported thinking of killing themselves.

It also shows the number of soldiers thinking of killing themselves while hospitalized has jumped from about 1,000 in 2006 to nearly 4,000 last year. This larger pair of numbers includes patients whose suicidal thoughts were a secondary, not primary, diagnosis.

The global medical community created this “suicide ideation” diagnostic code in 2005 to better track the problem of suicide. Such tracking began just as suicide rates surged as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq became more violent. The Pentagon notes that an increasing focus on the issue, as well as reducing the stigma associated with seeking mental-care care, could contribute to the increase.

“Suicide is a symptom of a bigger problem,” General Pete Chiarelli, the Army’s top suicide fighter, said recently. “It is rarely based on a single factor, but from work, health, finance and relationship problems. Helping them requires a combined-arms effort.” While violence may be in our DNA, it is plain that the prospect of war, and repeated combat deployments, increase suicidal thoughts among those summoned to fight.