Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

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?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Averages are averages because some numbers are higher and some numbers are lower. Any short-term comparison to to long-term averages is useless data. Even comparing this year's rate to last year's rate is just 2 data points on the curve. So where are we on the normal curve? I don't think we should sweat the rate, I think we should sweat the sailor. A rate of 1 per whatever period is too high, but inevitable. How to solve the issue? training? counseling? screening? How about a fundamental change in the culture where sailors enjoy their work and sense the importance of their command, thier unit/division, and their individual contribution to a vital mission. I think this part is missing today. I work in training, and I see instructors on podium who could care less about the fact that they have a significant influence over how a large number of sailors (students) will view the Navy and will perform their duties.

Okay, so this has been something of a rant about my frustration and an attempt to connect the suicide issue to the seeming lack of enthusiasm in sailors. I'd like to appologize to those who ARE enthused about the mission and who disagree with my assessment.


5/03/2006 10:02 AM

Blogger bothenook said...

i think the fact submariners tend to have a much higher stress level simply because they are in a submarine might have something to do with it.
we had a young nuke do himself in on another boat while we were in the yards. his shipmates said he just couldn't hack the hours and the workload. he didn't know how to fix the problem, so he removed himself from the situation in a most final way by DROWNING himself off of the living barge.
seems like a pretty final solution to a temporary situation.
in that world, everyone is stressed so much that the warning signs of real desperation can easily be missed.
don't know how to fix it. i wonder though what the percentages of submariners vs. the rest of the same age group are in comparison.

5/03/2006 11:48 AM

Anonymous EW3 said...

"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."

This would tend to indicate the suicide rate in the military overall is below the national average. Why is that not a headline story?

5/03/2006 6:46 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think what the sub force needs to looks at is why these sailors feel the need to end their lives, not how to prevent it. Think about how things have changed in the past 10 years. Optempo for SSNs is ridiculous, no longer is "the guy just screwed up" an acceptable "root cause" for human error, attrition at "A" schools is at an all time low (this means sub-par sailors sent to the fleet)...... Jeez, I think I could do this for hours. How about shifting the responsibility for suicide prevention to a more senior level and make them think about how our sailors are getting mentally "beaten" nearly to death by forcing untrainable people to do a difficult and stressful job and trying to do "more with less."

5/03/2006 9:01 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been following the reporting on the Columbus hazing incident closely, because I am a former Columbus sailor who is acquainted with all involved. I left the Columbus before the hazing incidents in question allegedly began.

I just want to give you and your readers a little perspective on the incident, and to hopefully help clear ETCS Sean Howe's name. He is an excellent leader, and it pains me to see his name tarnished when so many others should shoulder some of the blame in my opinion. This is because Columbus has harbored a culture of hazing, blackmail, and sexual harassment (and the tolerance of such behavior) since early 2003. This may seem unbelievable, but here are the specifics as I witnessed them on a firsthand basis:

--In early 2003, an Electrician's Mate Third Class was assaulted by a First Class Electrician's Mate, EM1 Benjamin Smith, for falling behind in his qualifications. The assault occurred because the EM Chief , Roy Davis, ordered the EM1 to do it. (This was admitted to me by the EMC at a later date.) Ironically, the assault was stopped by MM1 Isham, one of the accused in the current incident. The EM3 was told that if he pressed charges of assault on the EM1, he would face nonjudicial punishment regarding his failure to complete his qualifications in the time allotted him. The EM3 refused to drop the charges, and the Commanding Office, CDR Mike Ryan, dropped both cases, despite first-hand statements from MM1 Isham and myself, who were the two witnesses.

--The same EMC involved in the assault was accused of sexual harrassment by a Seaman working in the Supply department later that same year. Instead of taking action against the Chief, the Seaman was immediately transferred off the submarine.

I stress that this is not hearsay or speculation. I witnessed these incidents firsthand. These are two of the primary reasons that I decided to not re-enlist. I believe that these prior events served to establish a culture of tolerance for this "back-door" kind of behavior. The only person accused in this incident that in my opinion who is innocent is ETCS Howe. The men under his supervision have had problems in the past, and ETCS Howe is one of the few people who would not tolerate such behavior. Now, he could wind up taking the blame for others' irresponsibility in the matter. The current Commanding Officer certainly didn't encourage this type of behavior, but he is responsible for the actions of his ship's crew. To see ETCS Howe go down for this is simply unjust.

5/18/2006 6:48 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

as the wife of a sub sailor i see the stress my husband is under. he gets no respect from those higher in rank for the job he does & gets little sleep. over the past year my husband's sub has lost a few people due to increased stress levels. some of them made threats on their own lives. others threatened to harm shipmates. the hours are long & seem to never end for many of these men. there are days my husband has to call me to keep him awake on his drive home. while i am proud of him & my country it is my opinion that each command should do more for their sailors. my husband's command does not take care of any one but the top of the chain. for the past 10 months my husband has had an injured knee & has just over the last month or so been sent to medical. you would think they would want all of the sailors to be able to do their job properly. as a Machinist's Mate my husband uses his body for physical labor & needs to be in shape. he is not the only one who has not been taken care of. if this is not a reason for submariners to be stressed then what is? this is not to say that all submarines are like this. i just think that people should be informed that the life of a submariner never slows down. these men have to be on thier toes & deserve more respect than they get. to those who think it is no big deal i dare you to do the job of a sub sailor for a day & tell anyone of them that their job is not hard. even those who enjoys the job get stressed. every submariner i have ever met is proud of what he does, but he also knows that many times the boat he works so hard to keep running does not give back. it takes a special kind of man to volunteer to do this job. not many can say that they have lived under water on a tin can. on top of everything else there are no phone calls from beneath the waves & emails only go through when there is a signal. at least in the surface fleet they see the sky & get to call family. my husband says the sub is a world all in her self. there is nothing else like it in the world. like it or not without these brave men our country is not as safe without them.

5/28/2006 10:40 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was COB on a 594 class in the early 90's. While underway we had a QM1 go down to Diesel and hang himself. Thankfully, we weren't forward deployed, but heading south for a torpedo shoot (a Lant boat). I learned much more about decedent affairs than I had ever wanted. Take it from me, prevention is a far better option.

As far as stress, etc. is concerned, you need to get real. The WWII guys were under a bit of stress. The ones I knew and served with never mentioned anyone "cracking". You want stress? Get up on the flight deck of a carrier day after day. From what my brothers have told me, that'll raise the hackles on spine. I believe it. The boats do induce more that a bit of mental stress, but you have to remember one thing. If you're on 'em, you volunteered. Don't like it anymore? Do your time and bail.

Back in the '50's and the early days of nuc power all sub trainees were screened by a shrink to determine whether they were fit for duty. My dear old Dad went around the world on Triton and said the crew had a hell of a good time with the shrink on that run. Nowadays the crew is the screening factor. It works fairly well most of the time, too. Normal interaction of the crew quickly separates the "weak sister" from the norm. 'Nuff said. This tired old fart is heading to the kip.

Be Well.

10/15/2008 7:38 PM

Blogger CaptSMRT said...

Suicide is a disease. Self preservation is the primary motivation for human function, and to be/become detached from that is not a conscious decision. When you are talking about suicide you need to remember that people do not want to die and suicide is a manifestation of a problem. Statistics do a poor job of representing problems of an individual. An individual can land anywhere on a curve.

Look out for your brothers and sisters, in and out of service.

Twenty thousand submariners in the NAVY......300million+ in the United are the .0001%......

11/06/2011 8:53 PM

Anonymous Paulina said...

Here, I do not actually consider it is likely to have effect.

9/14/2012 6:15 AM

Blogger 763Ediv said...

i think that the the demograph that chooses military service vice other forms or furthering their life are always going to show higher rates of suicide....for a large percentage that join the military they chose an "easy way out", so the leap to committing suicide is decidedly short.

1/08/2013 7:06 PM


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