Concern Mounts Over Cadet Suicide Attempts

January 4 2005, 8:08 AM

What is it about the Air Force Academy that differentiates it from Westpoint? The attempted suicide rate among cadets.

An increase in the number of suicide attempts among U.S. Air Force Academy cadets in 2004 has prompted officials to strengthen programs to identify those at risk. Seven cadets attempted suicide in 2004, including four in the last three months of the year. Officials reported six suicide attempts among cadets in 2003 and five in 2002. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., reported no suicide attempts in the past two years. The Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., does not keep statistics on suicide attempts.

Is it just a coincidence that the number of actual suicides among members of the Air Force is also increasing?

In 2004, there were 47 suicides through Dec. 17 for a rate of 14.6 per 100,000 airmen, up from 38 suicides for a rate of 10.2 per 100,000 in 2003.

One question that needs to be asked is what kind of admissions screening program is in place? How much does the Academy know about those it admits? One has to wonder about who gets rejected if this statistic is reflective of those who get accepted:

Six of the seven cadets who tried to kill themselves in 2004 had been diagnosed with psychological problems before arriving there.

Eating disorders, depression, alcohol and drug use are suspected of being key factors in suicide attempts by teenagers. These are problems for teenagers at large. They don't begin to explain why the numbers for Air Force Academy cadets are higher. Perhaps it's time for the Academy to look within rather than at those who fall prey to addiction and disease. These conditions are manifestations rather than the root cause of an obviously larger and more systemic problem.