A group of Senators recently called on Defense Secretary Mark Esper to address mental health issues for American servicemembers during social distancing as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter last week, Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), Joni Ernst (R-IO) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) asked Esper to come up with a plan to tackle the negative effect social distancing may be having members of the military.
“We write today to encourage you to also reflect on the unintended consequences that social distancing measures of isolation and quarantine may have on our service members’ mental, spiritual, and emotional health,” the senators wrote. “A comprehensive plan of action by DoD to address symptoms of suicide, depression, and other mental health related illnesses under the current environment of isolation would provide a framework for these leaders to build on the team dynamic and remain virtually connected.”
Citing from the most recent Quarterly Suicide Report (QSR) from the DoD, the senators said suicides in service members are increasing. In the 4th quarter of 2019, 95 suicides were reported, 12 more than the previous quarter, and six more than the same time in 2018. The senators said the effect of social distancing and the current health crisis may exacerbate existing problems.
“The causes of suicide include a range [of] complex factors from social, psychological, environmental, and biological influences,” they wrote. “Just last month, two Air Force Academy cadets set to graduate this summer took their lives within days of one another. While the circumstances of each of these unfortunate deaths are unique and distinct in condition, we must not overlook the fact that the stress of a public health emergency and social distancing emboldens a perfect storm that breeds the symptoms of suicide. Anxiety, isolation, lack of purpose, financial hardship, prolonged loneliness, depression, and personal loss are some of the many indicators that increase one’s risk for suicide.”
Senators asked Esper to come up with a comprehensive plan of action that would allow service members to participate in social distancing while remaining virtually connected, as well as connect service members to necessary governmental and non-governmental agencies to reduce the risk of suicide.