U.S. Army / Sgt. Brayton Daniel

Army first-quarter suicides highest since 2013

Officers deaths by suicide are up significantly from last year.

The number of soldier suicides in the first quarter of 2023 was the highest since the Pentagon began keeping track of the data a decade ago, despite a decrease in force size during the same time period. 

The number of deaths by suicide in the active-duty U.S. Army for the first quarter of 2023 increased by 12 from the same time period in 2022 for a total of 49 deaths, the Defense Department’s Defense Suicide Prevention Office reported. The increase came as the Army shrank by more than 20,000 soldiers.

By contrast, the number of deaths by suicide in the first quarter of each year from 2013 to 2022 averaged 34, according to calculations by Defense One, based on Defense Suicide Prevention Office historic data. 

Army officers are among the hardest hit, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston said last week at a meeting of command sergeant majors. 

Eleven officers died by suicide in 2022, while nine had died by suicide as of the third quarter of calendar year 2023, Grinston said. 

Grinston blamed many of the suicides on a combination of adverse life events, gun ownership, and alcohol abuse. “How do we change that culture?” Grinston said, referring to the use of alcohol in the Army, as part of a wide-ranging conversation that touched in part on functional alcoholism in the military. 

The Army has attempted a range of fixes to address suicide, and seen some success. 

The Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness program, for instance, led to a 36.8 percent decrease in suicides among participating units in 2022 compared to 2019, according to the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. Units that did not participate saw suicides rise 37 percent in 2022 versus the 2019 baseline. 

The Holistic Health and Fitness program gives units access to exercise coaches, behavioral health professionals, registered dieticians, and chaplains. The program will be rolled out to 110 Army brigades by 2030. 

However, some believe the service has not taken enough action to prevent suicide deaths. A January 2023 report on Army suicide studies obtained by the Project On Government Oversight found the Army had commissioned 47 studies on suicide, but about 89 percent had no “actionable recommendation” for the Army or only suggested more research. 

The responsible Army offices took no action on the actionable recommendations in the remaining 10 reports, the study added.