Suicide rates in the Army have traditionally declined during wartime but apparently this is no longer the case, according to a recent study of Army suicide rates dating back to the mid-1800s.

The trend is different now, possibly as a result of the so-called “endless” — or “forever” — wars of the mid-twentieth century, specifically those in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, the study found.

It only makes sense, doesn’t it? Long and repeated deployments quite naturally take their toll, especially when they go on for years without any sign of a resolution to the conflict.

Or, as was the case with my own son, equally agonizing is the wait to deploy in the first place. The dread, anxiety and apprehension are understandably difficult to bear, along with seemingly ever-changing deployment dates and orders. In advance of his first deployment, to Afghanistan, my son took his life in August of 2010. 

Unending war can also be described as chronic war, which, not surprisingly, leads to chronic stress. It’s sort of like having a chronic illness. It quite simply wears you down. 

In other words, a war that drags on and on without closure (or even a realistic hope of closure) is enough to drive even the most ardent soldier to despair.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii and the Department of Defense, who analyzed records going back as far as the 1840s, claim that their study of suicide among active-duty soldiers is the most comprehensive that’s ever been done.

“One of the things that stood out to me was the apparent consistency of suicide rates declining during wartime prior to the so-called ‘endless’ wars of the mid-twentieth century onward,” said Dr. Jeffrey Smith, lead author of the study. Smith also told that he hopes the study will help to “reframe” the approach to military suicides with combat no longer being seen as the primary “driver” behind active-duty suicides. 

The study comes in the aftermath of a Department of Defense announcement in September that the suicide rate in 2018 for active-duty U.S. service members was the highest on record.

As tensions with Iran continue to mount it’s easy to imagine a war with that country turning into yet another “forever” war. And if this were to happen, it’s also easy to predict which direction the suicide rate among our troops is likely to go.