Soldier Suicides: A Statistical Primer
Few of us would argue that soldiers returning from the battlefield deserve treatment for stress as well as wounds, as a moral obligation. Not to mention preventative programs and techniques similar to those discussed in Grossman’s On Combat book and “Bulletproof Mind” presentations, Richard Strozzi-Heckler’s work in SOCOM’s Trojan Warrior Project (1980s), the Marine Martial Arts Program, the new Warrior Mind Training et. al.
DID has covered a number of programs and issues related to soldier medical care. When analyzing current or proposed situations, however, it helps to know some math. This is true for all military programs, and it is true here. Since DID often provides statistics, and the issue appears to be current, we offer these:
If Bloomberg news is correct, 1.6 million American troops have been to Iraq or Afghanistan during this war, and about 4,560 have died to this point. If those 1.6 million people have exactly the same rate of suicide as the general population for the rest of their lives, the national rate of suicide in 2005 for ages 15 and up was 13.14 per 100,000. Assume that the average age of the soldiers is 30, and a conservative estimate gives them 40 years of exposure to the risk of suicide. 1.6 million x (13.14/100,000) x 40 years = 8,409 suicides at rates exactly equivalent to the American population as a whole. Versus about 4,560 killed so far in almost 7 years of combat. Media coverage that is surprised by this casualty comparison, and portrays soldiers as generally unbalanced on that basis, opens itself to serious professional questions. Perhaps enlistments in Raytheon’s Math Moves U program could be arranged.
You would also wish to know military statistics for suicide, of course (17.3/100,000 overall, 19.9/100,000 for those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan), as well as general population statistics for men age 20-44 (21.82/100,000) and women age 20-44 (5.54/100,000) per 2004/05 figures. Adjusted for US military figures of 17% women, an equivalent general American population would have a near-term annual suicide rate of 19.06 per 100,000.