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By Sara Croymans

This past spring, at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, I came across the “The Rainflower Project” exhibit. The goal of the exhibit was to promote positive mental health and suicide prevention. The project creator, Damien Wolf, is a ceramic artist who created 675 ceramic flowers to represent the average number of people who die by suicide each year in Minnesota. The intent of the exhibit was to provoke discussion about a topic that is often hard to discuss. Visitors were invited to add to the exhibition by decorating a tag in honor of a loved one. The exhibit included signs with messages promoting positive mental health, including: 

    • Believe: You have the power to prevent suicide 
    • Endure: Resilience is our superpower; it gets us through anything
    • Join: Groups, clubs, and teams are fun and good for you
    • Listen: Hear what people say and what they are trying to say
    • Visit: Friends can make you feel better; so can a doctor or a mental health professional

Behavioral Health 

The Department of Defense (DoD) 2021 Health of the Force report provides data on behavioral health (BH) disorders (e.g., adjustment disorders, anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, PTSD, alcohol-related disorders, bi-polar disorders, substance-related disorders, and psychoses) of Active Duty Service members. Here are some of the recent report findings::

    • Overall, 9.6% of Active Duty Service members were diagnosed with a BH disorder in 2021. 
    • The annual prevalence of BH disorders increased 12% from 2017 to 2021, and 10% between 2020 and 2021.
    • Female Service members were more likely to be diagnosed with a BH disorder (16%) when compared to male members (8.3%). 
    • Service members in the youngest age category (less than 25 years) had the highest prevalence of BH disorders in both sexes.
    • Among both male and female A Duty Service members, adjustment disorder was the leading BH diagnosis in 2021, followed by an anxiety disorder and depressive disorder.

The unique circumstances of military life can increase the risk of depression, including separation from family and support systems, stressors of combat, and seeing oneself and others in harm’s way (Inoue et al, 2022).


The DoD Annual Report on Suicide in the Military shares that in the calendar year 2021, 519 service members died by suicide (328 Active; 74 Reserve, and 117 Guard). Suicide rates for the Active Component have gradually increased since 2011, while the Reserve and Guard have shown no increasing or decreasing trends since 2011. The report also shares that since 2011, military suicide rates were similar to the U.S. population in most years, when accounting for age and sex differences (the makeup of military members is younger and mostly male). 

Tipton (2023) identified several psychosocial factors (i.e., intimate partner problems, job loss or demotion, financial problems, recent crisis or loss, exposure to violence or abuse) and health-related factors (i.e., mental health concerns, serious medical conditions, previous suicide attempts and/or self-harm, alcohol and substance abuse) that may influence the increased rates of military suicide compared to the general population.  

Interested in learning more? Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog post on stigma and normalizing the conversation about mental health and suicide.

Become familiar with these resources:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) provides resources on advocating for suicide prevention, and information on community programs and local chapters.

Military OneSource resources:

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): Veterans & Active Duty web page offers information, support, and education specifically for veterans, service members, and their families. 

National Institute of Mental Health shares information on depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, suicide prevention, and more. 

OneOp provides a variety of Suicide AwarenesscContent, including: 

    • On-demand webinars: 

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) provides several military-specific resources, including Cultural Competency for Serving the Military and Veterans and Service Members, Veterans, and their Families Technical Assitance Center.

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) equips individuals, groups, and communities to prevent suicide; provides peer support by connecting individuals with shared experiences; and provides grief support to survivors of suicide loss. 

Veterans Crisis Line (Dial 988 then press 1) provides confidential crisis support 24/7.  Add this resource to your phone contacts for easy future access and referral. Encourage the service members you work with to also add this number to their phone contact list.


Department of Defense (DoD). (n.d.). Department of Defense Annual Report on Suicide in the Military: Calendar Year 2021. Retrieved from 

Department of Defense (DoD). (n.d.). DoD Health of the Force 2021. Retrieved from 

Inoue C, Shawler E, Jordan CH, Jackson CA. (2022). Veteran and Military Mental Health Issues. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing, Treasure Island (FL); PMID: 34283458. 

Tipton, S. (2023). Risk factors for suicidality in active-duty military: A critical literature review [Psy.D., Azusa Pacific University].

Sara Croymans, MEd, AFC, University of Minnesota Extension Educator, member of the OneOp Family Transitions team, military spouse, and mother.