Amid Spike in Suicides in Alaska, the Army Invested in Mental Health. But the Problem Is Getting Worse.

As many as 15 soldiers stationed in Alaska have died by suicide this year, more than double the number of such deaths in all of 2020 in a crisis that has defied solution.

The suicide deaths have sparked alarm at the Pentagon’s highest level. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is aware of the “worrisome trend in Alaska,” according to a Defense official who was not authorized to speak publicly. Austin, who visited troops in Alaska this summer and addressed suicide and mental health, is in contact with Army leaders about improving conditions there and across the armed services to try to prevent “tragic deaths,” the official said.

Austin’s visit came after USA TODAY reported that at least six soldiers in Alaska had died by suicide in the first five months of 2021. Despite the attention, suicides among the 11,500 soldiers in Alaska have continued. The Army has confirmed 10 suicide deaths among soldiers in 2021 with another five deaths under investigation for suicide or accident. Two more soldiers in Alaska have died in accidents, according to John Pennell, an Army spokesman.

There were seven suicides among soldiers in Alaska in 2020 and eight in 2019. . .

Despite spending $214 million in fiscal year 2020 in a “Quality of Life” campaign at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, suicides have continued. The investment was made after a previous cluster of suicides, smaller than this year’s, had occurred. From January 2014 to March 2019, there were 11 suicides among soldiers at Fort Wainwright. A survey of 4,000 soldiers there found that 10.8% had expressed ideas about suicide, according to a 2019 report. (Read more from “Amid Spike in Suicides in Alaska, the Army Invested in Mental Health. But the Problem Is Getting Worse.” HERE)

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