IDF Suicides Fall, but Still Top Cause of Soldier Deaths in 2012

Figures released by IDF show 14 soldiers committed suicide last year, seven less than in 2011.

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Fourteen Israel Defense Forces soldiers committed suicide in 2012, marking a sharp decline from the 21 soldiers who took their own lives the previous year, army figures show.

Still, suicide remained the primary cause of death among IDF soldiers last year. It was the third year in a row that suicide had been ruled the leading cause of death in the IDF.

The 14 soldiers who killed themselves are described as "suspected suicide" because the Military Police investigation into the cases have not yet been completed.

Official IDF figures show that during 2012 eight soldiers were killed in traffic accidents, three were killed during training and similar accidents, five soldiers and reservists died in action, two drowned (while on leave) and six died of illness.

One soldier's death remains a mystery. The committee appointed to investigate the cause of death failed to reach a conclusion, as the family of the soldier objected to an autopsy. He is registered as having died from an illness.

In 2009-2011, 67 percent of the soldiers who committed suicide were not deemed mentally ill, according to army figures, and did not suffer from clinical depression.

According to various studies, suicide is the primary cause of death in most armies around the world during non-combat years, a senior-ranking IDF psychiatrist told Haaretz.

Over the past five years, the suicide rate in the IDF has tended to decline slightly, figures indicate. In 2008, 23 soldiers killed themselves; in 2009, that number dropped to 20; in 2010, 28; and in 2011, 21.

From 2002 to 2012, there were a total of 278 reported suicides among IDF soldiers.

"The army has taken steps in the personnel directorate and Medical Corps, and among commanders and psychiatrists, that have dramatically reduced the suicide rate," the officer said.

"In the 15-24 age group, the national suicide rate is similar to the one in the IDF," he said.

Furthermore, he added, the IDF exempts people diagnosed with a serious mental disease from service.

In recent years, the percentage of IDF suicide cases who have been treated for mental health problems in the army has grown. "Before the prevention plan and raising the awareness among commanders, we treated less than 20 percent of the soldiers who committed suicide," he said. "In recent years we've treated almost half of them. We can't say there's a correspondence between suicide and military service, but apparently we also treated those whom we prevented from committing suicide," he said.

The IDF spokesman said: "The suicide cases in 2012 were fewer than in the two last decades. About seven years ago the IDF introduced a program to prevent and reduce suicide and as a result the number of suicides has dropped significantly."

Israeli soldiers surrounding a Palestinian building during a search operation in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Wednesday, June 28, 2006.Credit: AP
Causes of soldiers' death.

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