One of the greatest American national tragedies is one that continues to worsen every day. Veteran suicides rose more than 30 percent between 2005 and 2015, and they continue to climb.
Countless initiatives have been launched at raising awareness of veteran suicides. In 2017, there was the 22-Pushup Challenge, which drew attention to the fact that 22 veterans take their own lives each day. The Spartan Pledge followed, asking veterans to rely on a network of battle buddies who wouldn’t let them down.
In the years that have followed, a number of prominent American figures have stood up for the lives of veterans, putting mental health at the forefront of the issue. Most recently, and on Twitter, actor James Woods attempted to talk a veteran out of killing himself. The veteran was later located alive.
Our veterans continue to fight a war long after they have left service. This we know as a fact, but it’s not the only fact we have, and a project by the USC Masters of Social Work is putting what we know about veteran suicides into perspective.
In “The Growing Problem of Military Suicides,” the USC MSW staff illustrates in infographics, which segments of the veteran population are most affected by suicide. Along with this data, the project is using “artificial intelligence to examine engagement on social networks by military personnel to identity risks such as depression and anxiety.”
“If we could collect data on people over a period of time, we could look at changes in their social networks to understand when and where and at what moments people become more at risk of suicide,” said Eric Rice, USC CAIS co-founder and associate professor at the MSW@USC.
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Veteran suicide rates vs. national suicide rates
Veterans in the Southern and Western United States are involved in more suicides than other regions.
Change in suicide rate 2005-2015
Veteran suicides have increased at least 20 percent since 2005. Suicides involving female veterans have increased more dramatically than those involving men.
Suicide rates by state
Wyoming has the highest rate of veteran suicides in the United States, though it has the lowest population. Veterans in Northeastern states are less likely to die of suicide.
Veteran suicides by gender and age
A majority of veteran suicides involve men, but there are different patterns between male and female veterans. Male veterans are most at risk of suicide between the ages of 18-34, while female veterans are at the highest risk between 35-54.
Female veterans hit peak of high risk at mid life, with the probability of suicide decreasing from there. Men, on the other hand, are at the most risk early after being discharged and at the least risk in middle age, with a rise in reported suicides after 75.
Suicide rates by era
Suicide rates among veterans have increased dramatically since World War II, but it’s veterans who served during peacetime that are most at risk of suicide, followed by those who served in Vietnam.
This single juxtaposition may prove that it’s not the conflict that drives veterans to inescapable depression and mental anguish, but something else.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.