Space Force Reports 2 Suicides This Year, Marking the First in the Service's Short History

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U.S. Space Force uniform nametapes
U.S. Space Force uniform nametapes displayed the Pentagon Jan. 17, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert Barnett)

The Space Force has publicly disclosed its first deaths by suicide -- the first since becoming the newest military service branch in 2019, according to the latest data.

The Pentagon, which maintains and releases suicide data among all the service branches, disclosed in its most recent quarterly suicide report for 2023 that two Guardians died by suicide sometime between April and June.

Until this year, the relatively tiny and new Space Force had been an outlier among the other services as they have struggled to reduce the number of troops who take their own lives.

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"The Department of the Air Force reports suicide rates for airmen and Guardians to the Department of Defense on a quarterly basis so we can detect long-term trends and adjust prevention efforts and resources accordingly," said Maj. Tanya Downsworth, an Air Force spokeswoman.

The Space Force, with about 8,600 active-duty Guardians, is the smallest of all the service branches, but is not immune to the same issues facing all of the services when it comes to mental health.

Last year, according to the 2022 report, the Space Force experienced no deaths by suicide. By comparison, the Air Force -- active-duty, reserve and Guard -- saw 91 suicides last year. So far, in the first two quarters of 2023, the latest data available, the Air Force has seen 46 deaths by suicide.

The 2022 Pentagon suicide report, released last month, was the first to incorporate data on the childhood background of troops. An estimated 14% of service members who died by suicide had some form of childhood trauma, though officials who briefed reporters on findings noted that childhood information is collected only after death, which may lead to incomplete assessments, Military.com reported.

The news of the Space Force suicides follows a host of suicide prevention efforts led by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. The latest push came as the result of a 2022 department suicide prevention review board, after which the Defense Department committed to improving accessibility of mental health care services as well as the safe storage of firearms.

"Even one suicide is too many," Austin said in a statement last month. "We have much more work to do to reduce suicide across our force, and owe it to our service members and our military families to provide the best possible care; to identify risk factors and spot warning signs; and to eliminate the tired old stigmas around seeking help."

The report also noted that firearms were the leading means of suicide, accounting for almost 70% of all the deaths.

Some troops or spouses have historically avoided seeking mental health assistance for fear of inadvertent career consequences, though the Defense Department has worked toward cultural change in part by recently implementing the Brandon Act, which allows a service member to self-refer for in-depth mental health assessments.

"We are committed to fostering a culture that encourages help-seeking behavior and dispels the perceived stigma of seeking mental health treatment," Downsworth said.

Veterans and service members experiencing a mental health emergency can call the Veteran Crisis Line at 988, press 1. Help also is available by text, 838255, and via chat at VeteransCrisisLine.net.

Thomas Novelly can be reached at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

Related: Overall Military Suicide Rate Dropped, But Active-Duty Deaths Increased Slightly, Pentagon Reports

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