Are soldiers more likely to die from suicide than being killed?

  • #1
Pythagorean
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Main Question or Discussion Point

Not sure if they're twisting numbers to make the point or not. But thought it was interesting that it's been found in two of the top 10 leading military powers of the world.

British Soldiers:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/10178403/More-British-soldiers-commit-suicide-than-die-in-battle-figures-suggest.html

American Soldiers:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/opinion/sunday/kristof-a-veterans-death-the-nations-shame.html?pagewanted=all&_r=2&
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
russ_watters
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It depends on the specifics of timeframe and sample selection, but it is often true (recently) in wartime for war to not be the leading cause of death for soldiers. I think in the US it is usually car accidents, followed by training accidents (iirc). This is a biproduct both of war being surprisingly safe and cars surprisingly dangerous. And while suicide is relatively uncommon, it happens to be more common than war deaths. Worse, sending soldiers to war can actually save lives due to that mismatch!

Note though that the NYT study at least has mismatched samples. It is comparing current war deaths (of which there were very few even in 2011) to suicides by all veterans (ie, people who are not in the military but used to be).
 
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  • #4
russ_watters
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It has been pretty well publicized that the rate is higher than for civilians, so I don't see what purpose the stats in the OP serve. They have a very poor frame of reference as far as I can tell.
 
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  • #5
BobG
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It depends on the specifics of timeframe and sample selection, but it is often true (recently) in wartime for war to not be the leading cause of death for soldiers. I think in the US it is usually car accidents, followed by training accidents (iirc). This is a biproduct both of war being surprisingly safe and cars surprisingly dangerous. And while suicide is relatively uncommon, it happens to be more common than war deaths. Worse, sending soldiers to war can actually save lives due to that mismatch!

Note though that the NYT study at least has mismatched samples. It is comparing current war deaths (of which there were very few even in 2011) to suicides by all veterans (ie, people who are not in the military but used to be).
Actually, it's been true for over a hundred years. As the equipment used in warfare has advanced, accidental death has also increased. Part of that is the need to spend more time training. For example, more WWII pilots died learning how to fly than actually died in combat. In fact, some of the more interesting hikes in the area I live in are to WWII crash sites where the pilot didn't quite clear the mountain range (WWII pilots trained at an airfield that later became Peterson AFB in the city where I live).

And, with the US having a huge advantage over most of its adversaries, plus better capability to get rapid medical treatment for the injured, the number of actual combat deaths has decreased to a small fraction of the casualties we used to suffer.

I guess the statistics make a statement about troops committing suicide, but they also make a statement about our ability to reduce combat deaths.
 
  • #6
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I think the metric to consider is death by suicide associated with PTSD. Such a terrible way to die. Sacrifice your life for what? Im not even going to get into it - I think the military is highly overrated when you consider these type of drawbacks.
 
  • #7
Office_Shredder
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Especially the British combat deaths... they had 40 combat deaths and are trying to compare anything to that? They have 200,000 military personnel, so that's 20 deaths per hundred thousand, which if we compare to some occupation hazards from this graphic from wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Selected_occupations_with_high_fatality_rate.png

That gives us eight occupations in the US more dangerous than being in the British armed forces. So saying that they have more suicide deaths (including veterans so this isn't even a particularly balanced comparison) would be like me telling you that more farmers die from suicide than by work related injuries, and then saying that we are failing the nation's farmers.

Are we failing soldiers on a mental health front? Yeah, probably. But comparing suicides to combat deaths is just an attempt to get a cheap emotional rise because people assume without analysis that we should have lots of combat deaths
 

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