More US service members die by suicide than in battle

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The first time I saw the San Francisco National Cemetery was during a run along the forested trails of the Presidio, when I stumbled upon a procession of white tombstones. Arrayed in a quiet, orderly formation, they seemed to disappear down a green slope into the shimmering waters of the bay, where the Golden Gate Bridge loomed like a specter buttressing the horizon.

I’ve since run past the low stone wall encircling the cemetery enough times to usually spare it not much more than a glance. But I’m always struck by the centuries of bodies resting beneath my feet, of the sheer number of people who gave up their lives to protect this land.

I’ll also find myself thinking of the lost bodies in the waters beneath the Golden Gate Bridge – including that of the veteran who was the first person recorded to jump off it.

Active duty service members and veterans are still dying of suicide – four times as many have died by suicide than died in battle since 9/11.

April Smith, a psychology scholar at Auburn University, has spent nearly two decades studying why certain groups of people, including service members, experience high rates of suicidal thoughts and acts. She notes that while researchers already know the factors that put service members at risk of suicide, increasing rates suggest that a different approach to studying suicide among service members is needed for prevention.

“Based on our study results, considering how the military both fosters and hinders a sense of belonging and effectiveness could help address suicide risk factors,” she writes.

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Vivian Lam

Associate Health and Biomedicine Editor

Active duty service members and veterans experience unique stresses that can lead to suicide. MivPiv/iStock via Getty Images Plus

More military veterans and active duty service members are dying by suicide than in battle – understanding why can help with prevention

April Smith, Auburn University

Suicide among military service members in the US is a growing problem. A lack of a sense of belonging and feeling like a burden are key risk factors.

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