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Health

Good news: Suicides among US military personnel have suddenly dropped

Pentagon officials are 'cautiously encouraged' by the numbers.

military suicides

Finally some improved stats concerning military suicides.

It's no secret that the U.S. military has been battling a suicide problem. Since 9/11, more U.S. military personnel have died by suicide than have died in combat. Suicide rates among U.S. military personnel are higher than the civilian population and have been steadily increasing for the past two decades. In fact, a study released in 2021 reported that "2018, 2019, and 2020 have consecutively marked the worst years of active service member suicide since the previous peak year in 2012."

However, the numbers since 2020 tell a different story—one that offers a glimmer of hope.

According to a new Pentagon report and preliminary data for 2022 reported by PBS News, there has been a dramatic decrease in suicides among active duty military in the past 18 months. The Air Force and Marine Corps saw a more than 30% drop from 2020 to 2021, while the Navy saw its numbers of suicides decrease by 10%. The Army had a slight increase from 2020 to 2021, but has had a 30% decline during the first six months of 2022 compared to the first six months of 2021.


The numbers in different branches have gone up and down in the past 18 months, leaving questions on the table about whether those downward trends are likely to continue, but according to Beth Foster, the executive director of the Pentagon's Force Resiliency Office, the 15% drop across the board leaves Pentagon officials "cautiously encouraged."

The biggest question, of course, is what is driving these numbers. There have been concerted efforts to increase mental health awareness and support in the military, such as required counseling visits, education about stress relief and recreational outings, according to PBS News. However, such efforts have also been an uphill climb due to mental health personnel shortages and stigmas surrounding help-seeking.

As Dr. Dorothy Kaplan wrote in her guidance for clinicians in 2019, "Mental health stigma in the military is strongly grounded in military culture and is linked to a desire to handle problems on one’s own."

"Interestingly," she added, "service members who report psychological health concerns are most likely to perceive stigma and anticipate negative outcomes for seeking care, including career harm."

Maj. Gen. Eric Little, head of manpower and personnel for the National Guard, told PBS News that security clearance and flying eligibility can be affected in some cases when service members report seeking counseling, but officials are working to change such policies.

More successful mental health interventions and changing attitudes toward mental health treatment in general may be contributing to the drop in active duty military suicides. However, 2020 and 2021 also had a big confounding factor: the COVID-19 pandemic.

Suicides overall in the U.S. declined in 2019 and again in 2020 before climbing again in 2021. The active duty military numbers do not appear to parallel that trend, so it's difficult to say what impact the pandemic may have had on active duty personnel suicides. Causes of military suicides are multifaceted and figuring out how to address them is complex.


More time and data will be needed to determine whether this drop in suicide numbers is a trend or a blip. However, the Defense Department continues to address the issue through various channels across the different branches of the military. According to CBS News, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin created a Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee earlier this year and will be presenting a report on its progress to Congress in February 2023.

“Every death by suicide is a tragedy that impacts our people, our military units and our [combat] readiness,” Austin said in a statement on October 20. “That’s why we remain committed to a comprehensive and integrated approach to suicide prevention. Going forward, we are standing up a dedicated prevention workforce to strengthen our efforts to address suicide and other challenging areas. The scale of this workforce is unprecedented and reflects our commitment to make lasting change.”

It's great to finally see some more positive news on the military suicides front. Hopefully we'll keep seeing those numbers drop.

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From political science to joining the fight against cancer: How one woman found her passion

An unexpected pivot to project management expanded Krystal Brady's idea of what it means to make a positive impact.

Krystal Brady/PMI

Krystal Brady utilizes her project management skills to help advance cancer research and advocacy.

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Cancer impacts nearly everyone’s life in one way or another, and thankfully, we’re learning more about treatment and prevention every day. Individuals and organizations dedicated to fighting cancer and promising research from scientists are often front and center, but we don’t always see the people working behind the scenes to make the fight possible.

People like Krystal Brady.

While studying political science in college, Brady envisioned her future self in public office. She never dreamed she’d build a successful career in the world of oncology, helping cancer researchers, doctors and advocates continue battling cancer, but more efficiently.

Brady’s journey to oncology began with a seasonal job at a small publishing company, which helped pay for college and awakened her love for managing projects. Now, 15 years later, she’s serving as director of digital experience and strategy at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), which she describes as “the perfect place to pair my love of project management and desire to make positive change in the world.”

As a project manager, Brady helps make big ideas for the improvement of diagnosing and treating cancer a reality. She is responsible for driving the critical projects that impact the lives of cancer researchers, doctors, and patients.

“I tell people that my job is part toolbox, part glue,” says Brady. “Being a project manager means being responsible for understanding the details of a project, knowing what tools or resources you need to execute the project, and facilitating the flow of that work to the best outcome possible. That means promoting communication, partnership, and ownership among the team for the project.”

At its heart, Brady’s project management work is about helping people. One of the big projects Brady is currently working on is ASCO’s digital transformation, which includes upgrading systems and applications to help streamline and personalize oncologists’ online experience so they can access the right resources more quickly. Whether you are managing humans or machines, there’s an extraordinary need for workers with the skillset to harness new technology and solve problems.

The digital transformation project also includes preparing for the use of emerging technologies such as generative AI to help them in their research and practices.

“Most importantly, it lays the groundwork for us to make a meaningful impact at the point of care, giving the oncologist and patient the absolute latest recommendations or guidelines for care for that specific patient or case, allowing the doctor to spend more time with their patients and less time on paperwork,” Brady says.

In today’s fast-changing, quickly advancing world, project management is perhaps more valuable than ever. After discovering her love for it, Brady earned her Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification through Project Management Institute (PMI)—the premier professional organization for project managers with chapters all over the world—which she says gave her an edge over other candidates when she applied for her job at ASCO.

“The knowledge I gained in preparing for the PMP exam serves me every day in my role,” Brady says. “What I did not expect and have truly come to value is the PMI network as well – finding like-minded individuals, opportunities for continuous learning, and the ability to volunteer and give back.”

PMI’s growing community – including more than 300 chapters globally – serves as a place for project managers and individuals who use project management skills to learn and grow through events, online resources, and certification programs.

While people often think of project management in the context of corporate careers, all industries and organizations need project managers, making it a great career for those who want to elevate our world through non-profits or other service-oriented fields.

“Project management makes a difference by focusing on efficiency and outcomes, making us all a little better at what we do,” says Brady. “In almost every industry, understanding how to do our work more effectively and efficiently means more value to our customers, and the world at large, at an increased pace.”

Project management is also a stable career path in high demand as shown by PMI research, which found that the global economy will need 25 million more project managers by 2030 and that the median salary for project managers in the US has grown to $120K.

If you’d like to learn more about careers in project management, PMI has resources to help you get started or prove your proficiency, including its entry-level Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification program. For those interested in pursuing a project management career to make a difference, it could be your first step.
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