A new Facebook service for anyone connected with the United States Military was introduced yesterday with the announced partnership with the Veterans Administration and Blue Star Families for suicide prevention services. This new service further expands Facebook’s existing suicide prevention services by adding more tools for active military personnel, military families and veterans.
Since December 2011, Facebook has had a tool for reporting a link that contains suicidal content and has had a measure of success in crisis intervention via social media. But yesterday’s announcement is a tremendous boost in helping stem the tide of suicides amongst those associated with the military. According to an online survey of 4,000 military families conducted by Blue Star Families, a non-profit organization based in Washington DC, 10% of family members have contemplated suicide and 9% of active military personnel have contemplated suicide. Furthermore, of those surveyed, 42% felt that the Department of Defense was doing a poor job handling the issue of suicide and 57% thought the top priority in prevention efforts should be geared towards suicide prevention training for frontline supervisors and commanders. Blue Star Families also reported that over 90% of those surveyed used social media and 86% used Facebook daily.
The VA reported that the incidence of suicides amongst American soldiers rose 80% in 2008, with nearly half of the suicides attributed to combat experiences in Iraq. However nearly a third of the suicides were amongst soldiers who saw no combat at all. Compounding these troubling statistics is the VA’s 2010 estimate that 18 veterans commit suicide every single day in the country, which translates to over 6,500 each year. The VA also says that approximately 950 veterans attempt suicide each month and nearly 12,000 each year.
The VA has had a crisis hotline for over five years and has made more than 21,000 life saving rescues. Additionally, the VA has had an anonymous online chat since 2009, and has reportedly helped an additional 50,000 people. Coupled with Facebook and Blue Star Families, those connected with the military now have a broader assistance in crisis situations and it anticipated that the collective efforts will further help those connected with the military in their time of need.
Still the high incidence of military-related suicides may require even more assistance from the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration. With over one million military personnel returning home from tours in the Middle East, any additional service is critical towards helping soldiers return to a healthy and prosperous civilian life. As the longest serving Sergeant Major of the Army, Kenneth Preston once said, “One suicide is one too many.”