UPDATED 11:33 AM PT – Sunday, July 25, 2021
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke out on the ongoing concern of mental health in our military. In a press conference on Saturday at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, he stressed the importance of addressing the issues surrounding mental health.
“My first priority is to defend this nation and I’ve seen a lot of things today that help us accomplish that goal,” he explained. “Key to achieving it, is taking care of our people.”
For Austin, the number of deaths by suicide among military service members was not only concerning, but alarming as well. The fourth quarter of 2020 recorded a 25 percent increase from 2019. There were 156 deaths from October 1 to December 31, which contributed to the total of 377 for the year.
“I’m mindful of the stress that they’re often under,” he stated. “I’m deeply concerned about the suicide rates not only here, but across the force. ”
The Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative convened the #StandTo Health and Well-Being Task Force to recommend ways to apply innovative technology solutions to expand and improve mental health care delivery. Read the report here: https://t.co/ntZH1dGlZm
— George W. Bush Presidential Center (@TheBushCenter) July 20, 2021
The secretary said the Defense Department must approach suicides with the same energy as any other health issue.
“You’ve heard me say before, one suit, one lost by suicide is too many,” he expressed. “While we’re working hard on this problem, we have a lot more to do.”
Austin tweeted about the importance of changing the stigma back in May during Mental Health Month.
He went on to say, “I want to be clear, maintaining and healing mental health is just as important as injuries that are easier to see.”
Lloyd vowed his commitment to making sure resources were more accessible and available for the troops.
I want to be clear: maintaining and healing mental health is just as important as injuries that are easier to see. There’s still a stigma around mental health in our nation and our military. I want to do everything I can to change that. #MentalHealthMonth pic.twitter.com/zUwllPShJ9
— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) May 19, 2021