Suicides in the U.S. Armed Forces last year reached a record 349, compared with 310 combat deaths in Afghanistan.
“We’re deeply concerned by the suicides in the Armed Forces, which is one of the most urgent problems we’re confronting,” Defense Department spokesperson Cynthia Smith told Efe.
Last year saw the largest number of military suicides since authorities began keeping records in 2001.
The Army is the service branch that registered the most suicides, with 182, while suicides in the Marines, where for the past two years the number of such deaths had been falling, last year jumped about 50 percent to 48.
The Air Force registered 59 suicides, 16 percent more than in 2011, while the Navy had 60, a 15 percent increase.
Prevention of suicide has become a priority for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
The Pentagon says that it is committed to finding solutions to help soldiers who need it given that “our most valuable resource in this department is our people,” Smith said.
Smith said that there are different factors that can contribute to suicide, including financial, social, emotional, physical, mental and environmental problems.
She said that officers must actively promote a climate that fosters cohesion and encourages individuals to seek help when they need it, since “seeking help is a sign of strength.”
Currently, there are 9,000 psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and nurses specializing in mental health in military clinics and hospitals, a figure that has grown by 35 percent over the past three years.