The Navy’s suicide rate in 2021 decreased from 2020 and 2019, according to the annual suicide report released Thursday by the Department of Defense.
Although the past two years have shown declines – the 2021 rate is the lowest in five years – the overall trend line since 2011 continues to rise, according to the report.
While the Navy’s rate has declined over the past two years, the decrease between 2021 and 2020 was not statistically significant, said Liz Clark, director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office.
The Marine Corps is in a similar position, in which the past two years have seen a decrease in the suicide rate, although the trend line since 2011 shows the rate increasing. The decrease in the Marine Corps between 2021 and 2020 was also not statistically significant, Clark said.
Overall, the total military suicide rate has decreased by 15% between 2021 and 2020, said Beth Foster, executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency. She pointed out that one year does not provide enough data to show a trend and that the general trend for the military has been down since 2011.
“While we’re going to be talking about a lot of numbers here today, each of these numbers is a person and represents a family and a community that has been forever changed by this tragedy,” Foster said.
The Army saw a similar rate in 2021 as in 2020, while the Air Force saw a statistically significant decrease, Clark said.
It’s unclear whether the easing of COVID-19 restrictions for the military played a role in the decrease in the overall number of suicides between 2021 and 2020, Foster said. Similarly, Navy officials told USNI News that it was unclear what role COVID-19 had on the suicide rate in 2020, USNI News previously reported.
The Navy’s suicide rate for 2021 was 58 deaths per 100,000 active duty sailors, according to the annual report, up from 65 deaths per 100,000 active duty sailors the previous year.
The majority of military personnel who die by suicide are young enlisted men, according to the report. Firearms accounted for 67% of active duty suicides in 2021.
In the general population, suicide rates tend to be highest among men, with firearms accounting for the highest number of suicides, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. However, suicides of military service members tend to be younger than the general population, which sees more suicides among middle-aged men.
For the Navy, the highest percentage of suicides — 37.9% — were among active duty sailors between the ages of 21 and 24, according to the report. The second highest – 27.6% – was for sailors aged 25 to 29.
The Department of Defense collects demographic and situational information on each suicide and suspected suicide, which is entered into the Department of Defense Suicide Events Report. There were 55 entries for sailors in 2021.
Based on the report, the majority of the Navy’s 55 entries listed firearms as contributing to suicide. Of the entries, 66.7% were of sailors rated between E1 and E4.
Nearly a quarter of Navy suicides in 2021 occurred at a residence outside a military installation, while 21.8% occurred at a residence on duty, according to entries. The Navy did not know the location of about 38% of the suicides, while 3.6% were dockside.
The Department of Defense also received 243 entries for attempted suicide from Navy sailors in 2021.
Suicide Prevention Resources
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
Military Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255
The Navy Suicide Prevention Manual is a guide designed to be a reference for policy requirements, program guidance, and instructional tools for ordering. The manual is organized to support the core efforts of the command’s suicide prevention program in training, response, response, and reporting.
The 1 Small ACT Toolkit helps sailors foster a command climate that promotes mental health. The toolkit includes suggestions to help Sailors stay mission-ready, recognize warning signs of an increased risk of suicide in themselves or others, and take steps to promote safety.