Veterans and Military Center | Photo by Grace Ramsdell | The Wright State Guardian
While the Pentagon has not released the final numbers on military suicides across all branches for 2020 as of yet, Ohio service members and those providing resources for service members on Wright State University’s (WSU) campus are aware of an increased risk of suicidal ideations brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
156 deaths by suicide were recorded from Oct.1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2020 across all branches of the U.S. military. This is a 25% increase from the 125 deaths by suicide that were recorded in the same time frame just a year prior.
These numbers come from a report provided by the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, and though the report does not provide specific context as to why the increase in suicide deaths may have occurred, it does identify “the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the well-being of our service members and their families.”
At this time, if the preliminary data provided in the report remains unchanged, the number of suicide deaths in all components of the military will have grown from 503 in 2019 to 571 in 2020.
This represents a 13.5% increase in death by suicide across all branches of the U.S. military.
Dr. Sarah Peters, a Staff Psychologist in WSU’s Counseling and Wellness Services, said that a general increase in distress amongst both established and new clients has been identified at the university’s Dayton campus.
“While COVID has impacted everyone differently, there have been some general trends,” Peters said. “We have seen a lot of anxiety around health. In addition to students worrying about contracting the virus themselves, many were worried about its impact on family and friends. Grief is a common concern too. Folks have lost loved ones to COVID, seen experiences such as study abroad, internships, and graduations canceled, and missed out on what they imagined their college experience would be.”
Peters acknowledged the problems that students and military personnel may face both on-campus and abroad and reiterated the resources available for those who may be struggling.
“Wright State has many offices who are committed to helping students navigate barriers to success, including Academic Advising, the Culture and Identity Centers, and Student Advocacy and Wellness. Speaking specifically for Counseling and Wellness Services, we provide on-demand outreach programming to classrooms and student organizations on stress management, test anxiety, and other mental health topics,” Peters said.
“If there were issues prior to Covid that were sensitive to Covid issues – like isolation, stress, feeling disconnected and/or overwhelmed – then an individual would likely being in double jeopardy because these mirror the challenges that many veterans face when trying to transition back to the civilian world,” WSU’s Director of the Veteran and Military Center (VMC) Dr. Seth Gordon said
According to the WSU website, the VMC serves over 700 students each semester, offering educational benefits, processing GI Bill benefits, providing career and leadership development and facilitating academic support and advocacy.
Gordon stated that veterans are some of the most selfless individuals in the community when caring for others, yet the most stubborn when caring for themselves and this is something he would like to see change.
“Military personnel come from an environment where they are used to fighting for the individual next to them. The VMC motto is ‘we are each other’s champion.’ So be that champion. And if you are really worried about someone, law enforcement can do a wellness check. This is a last resort. Again – if you really care about someone, make sure someone puts eyes on them if you think they are in a bad place. Start with family or friends and then consider alternatives,” Gordon said.
U.S. Army National Guard Specialist Joe Winner of Columbus, Ohio has served his country for seven years. In that time, he has experienced three deployments and acknowledges the increased stress and discomfort that has been perpetuated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ve seen the biggest changes happening with those in the medical field,” Winner said. “In a deployment setting, not everyone has access to the N95 masks and the proper equipment to deal with this sort of thing. This definitely causes increased anxiety and panic amongst medical personnel.”
Winner noted resources that are provided to soldiers who may be struggling with increased anxiety, depression and even suicidal ideations.
“Soldiers are encouraged to seek treatment and help through their Chaplain, behavioral health counseling and even just talking to a fellow soldier about what’s going on,” Winner said. “Breaking the stigma around mental health issues is the first step. You have to realize it’s okay to have these issues and to seek the proper treatment.”
A colleague of Winner, Sgt. Nate Sanders, echoed the importance of taking care of your peers and recognizing when something isn’t normal.
Sanders has served his country for four years and said that exposure risks, lack of training and having to respond to coronavirus-related missions are amongst the top stressors causing an adverse effect on personnel within his unit.
“When you see someone acting out of character, or becoming less engaged in their daily tasks don’t be afraid to ask if something is wrong. Sometimes that one action can change that person’s life forever,” Sanders said.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with suicidal ideations, Call Raider Cares at 833-848-1765 or click here.
Additionally, WSU’s Counseling and Wellness Services may be accessed by calling 937.775.3407 or visiting in person at 053 in the Student Union.