Putting Suicide Policy through the Wringer: Perspectives of Military Members Who Attempted to Kill Themselves

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Nov 4;16(21):4274. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16214274.


In response to the Air Force Surgeon General, Lieutenant General Mark Ediger's call for medical services to be guided by service members' values, preferences, and experiences within the medical system, we conducted an interpretive phenomenological analysis of transcripts in which service members shared their experiences of military mental health policy and practices after being identified as suicidal. Themes of their experiences underscore nuances as it relates to intersectionality of policy when faced with unique military contextual factors and power differentials; both of which were missing in available research literature. Their experiences also illuminate further the innate "Catch 22" which happens when accessing help. Catch 22 basically means if you know you need help than you are rational; but if you actually seek help, then you are crazy and not trustworthy to do your job. Themes presented center on the lack of confidentiality of Service Members in the Workplace, effects of Unit Members' Surveillance and Command Directed Evaluations, and experiences of Military Mental Health Services. Critical discussions of policy and taken for granted assumptions that often drive narrow responses to suicide, treatment, prevention, and stigma are presented. Particular attention is given to the lived experiences of service members when placed under the demands of circumstances created by policy that may inadvertently lead in some cases to further suffering. The paper closes with recommendations from participants and the authors for policy makers and future directions in research.

Keywords: critical suicidology; lived experience; military mental health; military studies; military suicide; military suicide prevention and policy; policy; psychology; qualitative; stigma.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Mental Health Services* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Military Personnel / psychology*
  • Public Policy / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Social Stigma
  • Suicide / prevention & control
  • Suicide / psychology*