Suicide rate in Army at a 26-year high

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So reads the headline on this Yahoo/AP "news" story:
Suicide rate in Army at a 26-year high
Ninety-nine U.S. soldiers on active duty killed themselves last year, the highest rate of suicide in the Army in 26 years, a military report said.

One out of four soldiers who committed suicide did so while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to a report scheduled to be released Thursday. Iraq was the most common deployment location for U.S. soldiers who either attempted suicide or committed suicide.

The report, which The Associated Press obtained ahead of its public release, cited 88 suicides in 2005. The 99 recorded in 2006 was the highest raw number since the 102 suicides reported in 1991, the year of the Persian Gulf War when there were more soldiers on active duty.

The suicide rate for the Army has fluctuated over the past 26 years, from last year's high of 17.3 per 100,000 to a low of 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001.
What the article does not do is any kind of statistical analysis of the numbers. Fortunately, Sean Aqui at Donklephant does and the data turns out to be interesting, very interesting indeed:
Misleading with statistics
The headline on the AP story is breathless. �Army suicides highest in 26 years!�

That basic fact is true; Army suicides are up sharply, just like they spiked during the first Gulf War. The 2006 rate was 17.3 suicides per 100,000, a near doubling of the low of 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001.

But a closer look at the numbers is in order before we start jumping to conclusions.

The 17.3 rate translates into 99 suicides out of a population of about 500,000 soldiers. So it�s hardly an epidemic.

And if you compare it to civilian suicide rates, it�s even less of an issue. A pair of pdfs here produce the following table:
2004 CIVILIAN SUICIDE RATES (per 100,000 population)
Overall: 11.1
Ages 15-24: 10.4
Males: 17.7
Wait a second, you say. Other than that �males� category, the military suicide rate is clearly much higher than the civilian rates.

But look what happens when we break down the �age� category even further and combine it with gender:
Males, age 15-19: 12.65
Males, age 20-24: 20.84
You can see where I�m going here. Soldiers are mostly males in their early 20s. So a proper comparison of apples to apples shows that the military suicide rate, despite being at a 26-year high, is still lower than the comparable civilian rate. All that in spite of combat stress, the stress of being part of a �stretched� military, and access to all sorts of military-grade weaponry.

People are right to be concerned. The rate has doubled, after all. It�s clearly a symptom of strain and each one is a personal tragedy besides. The military should do what it can to reduce those numbers.

But let�s not overreact. The problem is small, and soldiers are still less likely to kill themselves than civilians are. This is more an example of shallow and innumerate reporting than it is a sign of serious problems in the military.
It is very easy to cherry-pick a piece of data and use it to support your thesis -- the less-than-honest climatologists are doing it all the time these days. The crime is reporting this to an uneducated general public as truth when with a little bit more work and some simple presentation of the background, the real story could be told...

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This page contains a single entry by DaveH published on August 16, 2007 9:27 PM.

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