Sub Force Tackles Increased Suicide Rate
The Virginian-Pilot has an article about the increased Sub Force attention to suicide prevention, brought on by the recent spike in the number of suicides among submariners. There have been nine reported suicides among the 20K+ submariners in the last 16 months, which is about three times the rate of the rest of the military, and almost twice the overall national rate. Excerpts:
"More than a year ago, Vice Adm. Charles Munns , the Norfolk-based commander of naval submarine forces, sent a memo urging his leaders to pay special attention to preventing suicides.
"In Groton, Conn. , and Bangor, Wash. , every submarine sailor is now issued a suicide prevention card listing local and national resources. Groton leaders also began offering classes on how to deal with disappointment, handle relationship difficulties, manage stress at work and defuse anger.
"In Charleston, S.C. , leaders adopted a program encouraging sailors to seek help with personal problems. The program there, Doran said, has reduced psychiatric admissions from about 35 to two a month.
"Mostly, though, the submarine community emphasizes internal communication. Irwin said that a few years ago, a submarine’s chief of the boat hurrying off the pier on a Friday afternoon might not have stopped to chat with a dejected-looking sailor. Now, the leader knows to ask questions, even if he ends up spending a few more hours on the job.
"If a submarine is under way or making a port call, Irwin said, a troubled sailor might be asked to sign a “life contract ” in which he pledges not to hurt himself until he can talk to a counselor."
I've never been much into the "touchy-feely" aspects of suicide prevention, but in this case I'm willing to defer to the experts. While the numbers have been high since the beginning of last year, it's interesting to note that 2004 had the lowest Navy-wide suicide rates in a decade.
I remember when my boat visited Victoria, British Columbia back in the early '90s, the protesters gave interviews to the local paper claiming that the U.S. submarine force had a very high suicide rate, which to them indicated that we were mentally unstable. I couldn't find any numbers from back that far, but I have no reason to doubt that our numbers may have been higher than average. I'm not sure how significant this latest increase is, statistically, because of the small numbers involved, but I'm glad the Sub Force is addressing it. I'm not sure why our rate should be higher than on surface ships; maybe it's because the average submariner has a lot more responsibility than their skimmer peers. Anyone have any thoughts on why we have a higher suicide rate?