Car crashes overtake suicide as leading cause of death in IDF

Nine soldiers are believed to have taken their own lives in 2018, down from 16 the year before; but traffic fatalities slightly up

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

A damaged car is seen after it struck an Israeli combat soldier on Route 232 in southern Israel on December 19, 2018. (Israel Police)
A damaged car is seen after it struck an Israeli combat soldier on Route 232 in southern Israel on December 19, 2018. (Israel Police)

The Israeli military saw a significant decrease in the number of suicides in the past year, nearly half the number from 2017, making car crashes the leading cause of death in the army, according to annual statistics released Wednesday.

In the previous three years, suicide had been the leading cause of death in the Israel Defense Forces.

In 2018, nine soldiers are believed to have committed suicide, compared to 16 the year before, the military said. The IDF credited the drop to its efforts to educate commanders about mental health and make assistance more readily available to soldiers.

The army said 14 soldiers died in car crashes, including four while on duty.

This represented a slight increase in the number of troops killed in car accidents compared to 2017, when 12 soldiers died in on- and off-duty wrecks.

In addition, eight soldiers were killed in combat, two in training accidents and 10 from illness, the army said.

The 43 IDF fatalities in 2018 — including conscripts, career soldiers and reservists — was 12 fewer than the year before, according to the figures published by the Manpower Directorate this week.

“We praise the decrease in the number of fatalities and are doing everything to try to bring down the numbers as much as possible. For us, every one of these [deaths] is an entire world, and we are continuing to work and act so that next year the number will be zero,” an officer in the IDF Manpower Directorate said Wednesday.

Illustrative: Comrades and relatives of IDF soldier Yosef Cohen mourn during his funeral in Jerusalem on December 14, 2018. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The lower number of soldiers taking their own lives reversed a slight uptick from 2016, and was a significant decrease from the early 2000s, when dozens of soldiers killed themselves each year.

The IDF has credited this decrease over the past decade to a number of programs that are designed to better train commanders to identify the signs that someone might have suicidal thoughts, as well as a streamlining of army processes to ensure that relevant information gets passed along to the officers responsible for mental health as soldiers move between units.

The suicide rate in the army is lower than that of people of the same age in the general population, and is also significantly less than the suicide rate of other militaries around the world.

The military said the nine soldiers who committed suicide in 2018 were not overwhelmingly from any specific racial or socioeconomic group.

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