Is Military Suicide Preventable?


By now most have heard the news – the suicide rate in the military is climbing and our leaders are calling it an “epidemic.”

And yet one group continues to fall through the cracks: military families.

It’s not a lack of resources. Army post Fort Campbell, for example, has almost 600 individual programs for family members, all aimed in one way or another at reducing stress which, in turn, lowers the risk for suicide. And yet leaders readily admit that they have a problem getting information about the programs out to the people who need it most. Soldiers can be forced to sit through briefings on seeing the signs of suicide risk and stepping up to prevent, but family members cannot (nor should they be).

Those briefings seem like they are starting to work on the soldiers of Fort Campbell. Their suicide rate, while still high, has not climbed over the last few months, even though much of the post is rolling out for Afghanistan. Since the 90 days before deployment is generally a time of more suicides, the fact that there have been virtually none is surprising.

But the families? No one really knows.

Army data shows that the number of Army family member suicides has remained fairly stagnant over the last three years – hovering between 11 and 14 nationwide. And while those are the suicides that have been reported to the Army, it is unlikely that number captures every family member death.

So how do we prevent suicide among military family members? How do we get the “invisible spouses” the emotional tools they need to thrive under stressful circumstances? Or is doing so even possible?

One of the top things we learned from the case of Tamryn Klapheke, who blamed the Air Force’s lack of support for her downward spiral towards suicide that eventually left her toddler dead, her other children hospitalized and her in jail, is that all the programs in the world can’t force someone who doesn’t want help to take it.

We all know – and prevention experts will tell you — that not every suicide is preventable, but what about some, or even most? Everyone has friends, and every friend can speak-up and step-in when they witness depression.  For example, even though Klapheke committed those horrific crimes against her children, a friend stopped her several weeks previous from committing suicide, she said.

What do you think? Take our poll  and leave your feedback (while checking out the results) below.

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About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of’s spouse and family blog A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • Steven Wilson

    Suicide in the military is no more 100% preventable than is suicide in any other segment of society. Police, Doctors, Firefighters, lawyers, students, teachers, business leaders they all commit suicide and the military is a microcosm of society in general. The rate of suicide in the military is, however, reducable through the intervention of friends and loved ones, but only with the education and involvement of those closest to the person contemplating suicide. Nothing will ever totally eradicate suicide in our society or in our military.

  • Sonja

    I want to let everyone know about a wonderful resource it you need help. They provide a place to get help and talk about what’s going on. I know them personally and they are here to help.

  • MomGrandma

    I chose ‘Sometimes’ because there is a ‘front’ that many people put on that is hard to see. My daughter and son-in-law get together with friends each year for a summer outing as they no longer live close by. Having just spoken the day before and all seemed well, one friend committed the unthinkable. It makes one think back to details, nuances that they might have missed.

  • ms6

    What makes people think that by ‘coming together’ suicides will stop? Are you 10 years old? Is this a serious comment?
    An ‘Everybody gets a trophy’ environment won’t stop mental illness. People are putting a pistols in their mouth and rifle barrels to their chins and pulling the trigger. A hug will not cure that.

  • cds

    One of the larger challenges was shown in the last suicide in my unit. Determined individuals are hard to dissuade, especially if they are determined to die and not give people that opportunity to step in. This individual left a note that stated he was determined to die and that he deliberately took steps to hide his intentions because he KNEW that every person in the unit would have done everything they could to stop him.

  • mel

    You can’t force people to utilize available resources. You can’t force people to become active participants within the military community. How do you recognize issues when people only allow you to see what they want you to see. I agree that when dealing with a close friend red flags may be apparent, but what about all those aquaintences that you really know nothing about. I have been in the same military community for 3 1/2 years and I can honestly say that I do not have close friends here. Most people I associate with do not know much about who I really am and I’ve chosen to keep things that way. I’m sure I am not the only person who is in these similar circumstances. So, who would know if I was in trouble unless I said something. Suicide is terrible for those who are left behind and we all wish that people wouldn’t find themselves in so much pain that it’s their only solution, but we can only help those who have openend themselves up enough to those around them so that the danger signals can be identified.

  • I don’t think suicide is 100% preventable. Sometimes people have internal struggles and hide it well. Military communities are strong, but not invincible. I think on the MilSpouse side there is a lack of mentorship, in that there really isn’t that ‘let me take you under my experienced wing and show you how to make it’ thing going on as much any more. New MilSpouses especially need to be taken in and ‘sponsored’ until they can adjust to military life, and have a source of support.

  • Deb Berg

    I disagree with the remark that military does not get transferred for more than one year? I am a US Army Veteran, with a son and daughter-in-law active duty! My son currently completing his Warrant Officer training, at Ft Jackson, So Carolina until February then he will go back to Germany! Where his wife and kids are right now, and he was told he would be there for three to four years! NOT months! They both spent their time several times to Iraq, and my son has been in Germany twice, Afghanastan for months,and continued training the fourth time!

  • Guest

    Even if military family members are unaware of the resources on base, there are always community resources available to prevent suicide and national resources such as the national suicide hotline. And of course, military one source offers private counseling in the community for free so that it cannot be traced back to Tricare. As a spouse, I am often disillusioned/disappointed by the resources on base. As a social worker, I want people to access everything available to them. I’m not sure if people realize that those suicide rates listed are the same as people who are persistently mentally ill; which is quite high.

  • Wardog

    Not all suicides can be prevented. Also, just because there are suicides does not mean that the current efforts to lower the rates have not been successful. You just never know how successful prevention is, because not everyone is willing to come forward and tell you that it worked for them.

  • There is something that keeps getting missed. There is PTSD from other causes and then there is another type of PTSD from Combat that can only be compared to law enforcement. For these two groups, they are not just survivors of trauma. They were a part of it. For them it is not just one event but many of them and then they have the fear of more for as long as they are on duty.
    There are also different levels of PTSD. If they get the right kind of treatment from a mental health expert on trauma, most of what they go through can be reversed but if they are treated by someone not specializing in trauma, it can do more harm than good. Families need more support and training so they can know what to do to help them heal. If not, families can make it worse. I’ve been married 28 years and know how hard it can be, but I also know how wonderful things can be too.

  • Pat

    A news blurb the other day said that more people commit suicide than die in traffic accidents. You can decrease the rate but can’t in the end prevent it.

  • Sunstar

    Most are preventable not all. Once youve known someone whos committed suicide you will be able to see it again in someone else and help them.. If they are determined to die they will. You did everything you could and in the end if we didnt have our Freedom we could not do it. Most are preventable. They are trying to stop their pain.

  • Nothing, nothing is being done about this.. I feel that the government, the military, advocates, sometimes even family don’t care. We’re in the way and we can’t be figured out..

  • Bebo

    I think the mandatory trainings and forced briefings actually drive soldiers to commit suicide.

  • Loren

    Yes. Any questions

  • Lynn

    If the suicide rates are ever going to decline there are steps that need to be taken that will have to take place on a much more personal level and in addition to all of the programs and briefings. First and most importantly the stressors that are causing the problem have to be identified by someone who believes and can convey that they understand that the stress is “that real” for the soldier, vet or After identified the stress must be recognized and addressed in a way that shows the veteran/soldier that family. he/she is believed and that there is hope in resolving or bringing that stressor into a controllable manner. See additional comment following,.

  • Lynn

    The soldier/ veteran was stripped of individuality upon entrance into the military and taught to operate as a team player. We cannot abandon them after restructuring their life to think as a team member when suddenly they try to deal with huge issues independently. They need help to transition from this mindset to a place where they may come up feeling totally alone. They need to know that we have their back no matter what. for as long as it takes. As the Marines, we should leave no one behind, ever.