Military Suicides at Near-Record Levels: Marine Corps, Navy, SOCOM Suicides at 10-Year Highs

BLUEMONT, Va., Feb. 11, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- The Boulder Crest Institute for Posttraumatic Growth raised concerns this week about announcements made by the Marine Corps, Navy, and Special Operations Command (SOCOM) spotlighting a growing crisis in active duty military mental health. As noted on, "The number of confirmed and suspected suicides in the active-duty Marine Corps and the Navy reached a 10-year high in 2018. Sixty-eight active duty Navy personnel died by suicide in 2018, while the Marine Corps sources say the service is concerned that 2018 may have seen a total of 75 suicides including reserve forces, even with the extensive mental health programs available." The article also noted that "…many of the cases are young Marines who have not deployed overseas and have not been in combat -- a situation that has been seen in other branches of the military as well."

The VA National Suicide Data Report cites 6,000 Veteran suicides each year from 2008 to 2016. And many of the other 2.8 million men and women deployed since September 11, 2001 are dealing with mental health challenges, to include adjustment issues, depression, anxiety, and Traumatic Brain Injuries.  

"Stark comparisons with the relatively strong mental health of past generations of service members and veterans point to a systemic social problem and the makings of an epidemic," points out Ken Falke, retired Master Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy's elite bomb squad and best-selling author of Struggle Well: Thriving in the Aftermath of Trauma. Falke added, "This is in spite of the fact that we are spending more money than ever on traditional mental health approaches."

Falke continues, "Our approach to mental health is failing. We need a new and innovative strategy to address this epidemic of suicides – and that is precisely what we have developed over the past five years," referring to years of benchmarked success at Boulder Crest Retreat. Boulder Crest has successfully developed Warrior PATHH (Progressive & Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), the first-ever program proven to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) in the military and veteran community. Based on the success of Warrior PATHH, Falke co-authored the book Struggle Well: Thriving in the Aftermath of Trauma, to develop a scalable training program that can be integrated into the active duty and veteran communities.

At the core of Warrior PATHH and Struggle Well lies 42 years of work into the science of Posttraumatic Growth, and a belief in the power of training rather than treatment. Falke and his team, in collaboration with Dr. Richard Tedeschi, the founder of Posttraumatic Growth, developed a curriculum that operationalizes Dr. Tedeschi's concepts through 7 days of group training, followed by an 18-month goal-oriented support phase. After a rigorous 18-month study, the Warrior PATHH program demonstrated a 56 percent sustained reduction in PTSD symptom scores, a 42 percent increase in personal strength, and a 40 percent increase in personal growth. This success has guided the creation of the Struggle Well curriculum, which offers great potential for stemming the tide of suicides and mental health issues on active duty.

"Our nation has access to insights, but lacks a collaborative system to apply the data," cites Falke. He points to evidence, including:

  • Trauma Before Enlistment is Linked to High Suicide Rates Among Military Personnel and Veterans 

  • The current system is largely focused on care from well-meaning but often under-resourced facilities, often leaving vets feeling even more deeply alienated

  • Struggling veterans are often given labels (like "Disorder" or "Treatment Resistant Depression") and a financial stipend incenting them to accept and maintain their tenuous status quo. 

  • There is a functional training disparity as US military receive weeks of training to become battle-ready warriors, and only hours of coaching upon transition out of duty.

"We're training service members and veterans to live great lives," points out the Executive Director of the Boulder Crest Institute, Josh Goldberg. "When they are given a path to a better life, and the training to walk that road, they can transform deep struggle into profound strength and lifelong growth, and live great lives. That is the antidote to suicide – not suicide prevention but the creation of a life worth living."

"The Boulder Crest Institute is actively teaching others to embrace PTG," clarifies Falke. "We hope to continue integrating this into the active duty community so we can ensure that our service members – both before and after deployments and combat experience – are able to thrive during and after their invaluable service." 

Media Contact: Anna Kavanaugh, 1-540-554-2727

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In this season, we should remember that we are called to love our neighbor as we would like to be loved, and that these gifts can come in many forms. Among them is the healing power found in medical advances that for America’s veterans have provided miracles in dealing with war’s visible wounds. However, success in dealing with invisible ones, like post-traumatic stress (PTS), can be more difficult.

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