In 2008, the Department of Defense recognized that soldier suicides were growing to alarming proportions. That year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) reported that the average rate of suicides in the United
States was 11. 9 deaths per 100,000 people. The U.S. Army, an
organization of approximately 500,000 members, in contrast,
saw a rate of 20. 2 deaths per 100,000 people that same year —
nearly double the civilian rate. The Army realized that the issue
required immediate and decisive action.
The problem, however, was that no two leaders agreed on
what was causing such an increase in suicidal deaths, leaving the
armed forces at a loss for how to address the problem.
To better understand the factors driving so many soldiers
to take their own lives, the Army partnered with the National
Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to create the largest
military-based mental health study ever undertaken, the Army
Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers, or Army
STARRS project ( www.armystarrs.org), in 2009.
“The Army wanted to understand what was driving these
numbers. What were the specific risks? What was the tipping
point that pushed some of these soldiers past the brink?”
says Terri Tanielian, a senior research analyst for the RAND
Corporation and co-director of the Invisible Wounds of
War project, an independent, large-scale assessment of the
psychological and cognitive effects of the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan. “They hoped to see patterns across different cases
that would help them identify important risk factors. And if
Now, six years later, the Army STARRS partnership has
yielded important data on the problem of soldier suicides. The
initial results may have the power to inform how the military
can better prevent both attempted and completed suicidal
death in the future.