Tuesday, February 3, 2009

West Point calls in Army team after 2 cadet suicides in 2 months

West Point calls in Army team after 2 cadet suicides in 2 months

By Alexa James
Times Herald-Record
February 03, 2009
WEST POINT — As the Army reels from record-high suicide rates, officials at the U.S. Military Academy are responding to tragedies of their own.

Two West Point cadets killed themselves and at least two others made suicide "attempts or gestures" in the past two months, prompting Academy officials to summon an Army surgeon general's suicide team to campus.

The team's investigation last week left West Point confident its mental health programs are robust and active, but Brig. Gen. Michael Linnington, the commandant of cadets, said there is still room for improvement.

Thousands of suicide prevention posters and wallet-sized help cards have been doled out across campus. Generals met with every class to remind them about the confidential mental-health resources at their disposal.

West Point's 4,400 cadets have access to counselors and doctors around the clock, Linnington said, both through an on-site office called the Center for Professional Development and a manned telephone help-line.

"The numbers of cadets that have gone to seek help at the CPD are triple what they were just five years ago," he said. "Some people would say 'Oh my God, that's bad. That means cadets are stressed,'" but Linnington takes it as a good sign, saying the programs are popular because cadets aren't ashamed to use them anymore.

More than 200 cadets sought help last year, including the two who committed suicide: A junior from Tennessee suffocated in a motel room in Highland Falls on Dec. 8, and a freshman shot himself Jan. 2 while on leave in North Carolina. He was home to get mental help.

Both had been referred for help by their classmates, officials said, and both had pre-existing psychological problems they did not disclose on their West Point applications.

The Academy is reviewing its admissions criteria to look for better ways to screen applicants. It does not currently conduct psychological evaluations.

According to the American College Health Association, nearly 10 percent of college students have contemplated suicide and 1.5 percent have made an attempt. West Point has had two suicides in two months, but only a total of seven in the last 20 years.

Still, the Academy's troubles underscore a concern that extends far beyond its leafy campus. Cadets will graduate as second lieutenants in the Army, which is grappling with unprecedented mental health problems. The Army's 2008 suicide rate was a record 20 per 100,000 soldiers.

"Given the challenges of what our soldiers are facing in combat — and let's face it, it's a dirty, ugly battlefield — mental health is just as important as physical health," Linnington said. "West Point's tough, and that's not going to change, but it has to be tough because when they graduate it's a heck of a lot tougher on the battlefield than it is at West Point."

Visit recordonline.com/westpoint for more information.


Suicide Warning Signs
1. Comments that suggest thoughts or plans of suicide
2. Rehearsal of suicide acts, such as pretending or even joking around.
3. Giving away possessions
4. Obsession with death or dying.
5. Uncharacteristic behaviors (reckless driving, excessive drinking, stealing)
6. Significant change in performance
7. Appearing overwhelmed by recent stressors
8. Depressed mood; hopelessness
9. Withdrawal from social activities
Information provided by U.S. Army

Sphere: Related Content