At least 10 Israel Defense Forces soldiers committed suicide in 2014, including four who fought in Gaza in the summer, according to figures compiled by Haaretz. The number represents an increase over the preceding year when only seven soldiers took their own lives. But that was the lowest documented number of suicides in IDF history. Overall the figures — which are expected to be officially released by the IDF soon — reveal that the suicide rate in the IDF is down, compared to the previous 10 years, when an average of 22 soldiers killed themselves every year.
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The army explains the general downward trend in restricted access to weapons on the one hand and the army’s efforts in suicide prevention on the other. But following the suicides of three soldiers from the Givati Brigade after last summer’s war in Gaza, as well as that of one reservist called up to emergency duty, the IDF says it intends to check the impact of the war in Gaza on soldiers who took part in it.
The IDF mental health chief, Col. Keren Ginat, said: “I don’t like to call it a suicide phenomenon, but in fact three soldiers taking their own lives after the operation is significant,” Ginat told a Knesset committee about two months ago. “I can’t say — and I don’t know whether I will ever be able to say — if it is connected to Operation Protective Edge or not. We are treating it as if it is,” she added.
After the suicides following the Gaza fighting, IDF mental health officers began to meet with Givati soldiers individually. All Givati Brigade commanders were briefed on the issue and questionnaires were distributed to soldiers in an effort to locate those with psychological difficulties.
Hundreds of soldiers were also reached by phone by the army, both conscript soldiers and reservists, as well as veterans, to try to ascertain whether they were exhibiting the initial signs of post-traumatic stress.
According to the IDF, this is the first time mental health officers actively approached soldiers rather than waiting for the soldiers to turn to them.
A number of soldiers were also released from service following the Gaza war due to their psychological condition. “In the United States and Britain they are aware of a significant rise in suicides after wars. We have not seen this,” Ginat told the Knesset committee.