Suicide Forces Taiwan's Military to Confront Mental Health Issues

Suicide Forces Taiwan's Military to Confront Mental Health Issues
Photo: J. Michael Cole / TNLI

What you need to know

Five members of the armed forces have committed suicide in the past two months, prompting calls for a thorough review of assistance programs in the military.

The June 12 suicide by a female major in the Taiwanse armed forces has prompted the Ministry of National defense to established a taskforce to investigate the incident.

The ministry initially said that the recent death of the woman’s grandmother may have destabilized the mental state of the young woman, surnamed Tsai (蔡). However it changed its stance after reviewing the incident and subsequently stated that work-related stress was the likely reason behind the suicide, the Chinese-language Liberty Times reported.

Lieutenant-General Liu De-jin (劉得金), director of electronic communications development and Tsai’s commanding officer, said that after Tsai sought help, she was transferred from research to an administrative section. He did not realize that the work, which she had no experience in, may have increased her stress levels.

On June 20, the ministry revealed more than 50,000 serving personnel were hospitalized due to stress in the workplace, the Central News Agency reported. Deputy Minister of National Defense Bo Hong-hui (柏鴻輝) said that stress in the armed forces was a major issue needing review. He has told legislators that although the ministry had taken note of Tsai’s pleas for help, the counseling arranged for her did not yield the intended results.

The incident has led to criticism from both the major’s family and the Legislative Yuan.

On June 20, Tsai’s brother accused the military of not giving proper attention to his sister’s condition, ETtoday reported. In a video, he showed his sister’s diary entries, describing months of stress, ill health, and insomnia.

“Work is giving me so much stress, it’s even affecting my health, I cannot sleep well,” he said. He told reporters he hoped the incident would shed light on the issue and help serving personnel get better support.

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) accompanied the Tsai family at a press conference. During interpellation at the legislature on June 20, Chen asked the deputy defense minister why the military was unable to respond adequately to the major’s call for help. Later in a Facebook post, Chen described her dismay when Tsai’s mother told her how she found her daughter’s body. Chen urged the ministry to investigate its counselling system.

Five serving members of the armed forces have committed suicide in the past two months. The incidents have put pressure on the Taiwanese armed forces to evaluate existing mechanisms, ETtoday reports.

The problem is not unique to Taiwan. According to USA Today, 255 active members of the U.S. armed forces committed suicide last year.

The 2013 death of Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) days before he was due to complete his compulsory military service sparked accusations that the military was using inappropriate disciplinary measures against military personnel and force the minister of national defense to step down.