Leaders Fear Military Suicides

By | June 1, 2015

[June 01, 2015]  The U.S. military and veteran suicide rates have been both newsworthy and tragic as of late. The suicide rate among military personnel when compared to similar non-military groups has trended slightly above those who never served in the military. The same can be said for our veterans. While the causes of suicide are complex and not fully understood, there is a problem for leaders who are responsible for those under their command and are being held accountable for military suicides.

It is true that military commanders are responsible for those who they lead. For good or bad, the actions of their subordinates reflect upon the leadership and quality of those leaders. For that reason, many leaders fear military suicides. The fear is greater than many would admit and that fear is the logical result of the fact that there is no obvious solution to preventing suicide. Leaders understand that they are responsible but do not have the tools to fully overcome the problem. No one has the tools to prevent all suicides.

Despite the dedication of enormous resources in time and money, the military has only had a small but positive effect in reducing suicide rates. It has been a frustrating road that leaders have traveled but greater attention has been given to the subject. When I first deployed to combat after 9/11 in 2004, there was nothing said about suicide. In my last deployment in 2010, I spent more time on the subject of suicide than on how to avoid IEDs.1 It was recognized that more lives were being lost to suicide than by action of the enemy.

Yet, the fear expressed by leaders is that they will be held personally responsible for a high suicide rate in their units. Somehow, it is believed, that a failure of leadership or failure to provide the right mix of resources will allow increased suicides. Leaders fear military suicides! It is something they’ve not had to deal within their experiences as a leader and not something for which they have a clear solution. While some leaders fear for their military career, for most it is a fear that they have failed those over which they are responsible.

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[1] Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Improvised_explosive_device


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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.