Fifteen Israel Defense Forces soldiers committed suicide in 2015 – a figure unchanged from the previous year, but more than double the low of seven recorded in 2013, the IDF reported on Sunday.
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Three of the soldiers who committed suicide were Ethiopian Israelis, up from just one in 2014. Ten of the suicides were soldiers doing their compulsory service. Four were in the career army, while one was a reservist.
Officially, most of the soldiers in question are still defined as “suspected suicides.” The IDF does not conclusively determine the cause of death in such cases until the Military Police have finished investigating.
The army’s mental health division noted that incidents of suicide over the past decade have been lower than they were in previous decades. The division attributed the drop to tighter restrictions on access to weapons, training that helps soldiers identify comrades in emotional distress, and greater awareness of the issue in all army units.
“Every soldier is a world unto himself,” an officer in the IDF’s manpower directorate said Sunday. “Nevertheless, statistically, the number of suicides in the IDF has remained stable and even declined.”
The IDF recently formulated a new plan to reduce suicides by soldiers. It focuses on improving information sharing between training bases and unit commanders, and also from the Social Affairs Ministry and the army.
In addition, the manpower directorate is studying soldiers’ behavior on social media, with an emphasis on social pressures, such as shaming, that might affect their mental health.
Eight months ago, the army’s chief medical officer, Brig. Gen. Dr. Dudu Dagan, speculated to Haaretz that social media might serve as a kind of safety net for soldiers in emotional distress.
“Social networks are a source of support for young people; they can talk with their friends,” he said. “Most soldiers have their smartphones. They can share information; they can turn to other people.”
According to Health Ministry statistics published in 2014, suicides among people aged 18 to 21 rose in the early part of the last decade, but then started declining in the middle of the decade, “possibly because of army programs to prevent suicides by limiting access to guns and raising awareness.” Ages 18 to 21 are the prime years for compulsory military service, though the figures also include people who don’t serve.