Last week, PolicyMic’s Robert Taylor wrote on an Iraq War veteran’s suicide note referencing the ugliness he’d seen in war.
I can’t say with any certainty that the suicide would still have happened had he not gone to war, but Taylor cannot say with certainty it would not have.
The connection between war and suicide seems messy. Durkeim’s 1897 Suicide found higher European rates of suicide during times of peace than war. Though the wars Durkheim studied were very different in their reach than our recent wars, it does cast doubt on the idea that witnessing brutality necessarily increases the likelihood of suicide.
That 349 American service members killed themselves in 2012, and that this is an increase over the year before, is upsetting. But the military or war itself may not be where those concerned about that number should look.
Combat itself can be discounted as a causal factor by the fact that the suicide rate of those never deployed has also risen dramatically in recent years. Between 2008 and 2011 52% of those committing suicide in the military had never seen combat action. About 20% of those taking their lives had been diagnosed with a mood disorder. Experts believe that number of diagnoses is far lower than the actual rate of mental illness, and can offer a 2008 study showing people are four times more likely to reveal emotional troubles when it is anonymous. Roughly half of those who killed themselves had had failed marriages and more an a third were involved in administrative or disciplinary problems or legal trouble.
Suicide rates in the U.S. in general have risen in recent years and it is not implausible that the military may draw those more predisposed to it than the general population. In addition, it's understand why people used to a highly structured environment would experience severe culture shock upon emerging into civilian life and being faced with unemployment again. But these are speculative connections.
War, the American military, and militaries in general do a lot of terrible things. Increasing suicides among soldiers does not appear to be one of them.