Doing Life Together

soldier 1Memorial day is supposed to honor men and women who died in all wars. This is why many of us visit the graves of our fallen loved ones and fly the American flag at half-staff until noon. Others march in parades, visit monuments and pray.

And while many of us have lost loved ones in the service of our country, there is another war going on within that is taking our soldiers lives as well. It’s war against hopelessness and depression. According to NBC news correspondent Bill Briggs, in 2012 more soldiers took their lives by suicide than died in combat. Last year, the New York Times posted an article about the “baffling” rates of suicide in the U.S. military.

Since 2002 the suicide rate among soldiers has risen dramatically. The U.S. Army Public Health Command reported that from 2004-2008, the suicide rate of active duty military increased by 80%! Last year, the AP reported that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it took an average of 4 years to fully provide the mental health benefits owed veterans. It also noted that is often took weeks for a suicidal veterans to get a first appointment. Obviously, suicidal people can’t wait weeks to be seen for help. Additionally, the report mentioned the flood of post traumatic stress disorder that were handled with “unchecked incompetence.”

So why are we seeing this rise in suicide?

1) Suicide is still a stigma in the military where you are not supposed to be weak. The message is suck it up and do your job.

2) A report by the Pentagon on suicide noted that half the troops who killed themselves in 2011 had a failed intimate relationship and about a quarter experienced substance abuse.

3) During war, recruitment changes. You tend to get those who really want to fight or those who are desperate for a job. The two groups are very different with the latter being more at risk.

4) With constant war, recruitment standards are lowered because you need more people, thus, you get a more at risk population. A new study (JAMA Psychiatry) showed that almost 1 in 5 soldiers had a mental illness like depression, panic or ADHD before they joined the military. The question is how did these recruits get past the screening?

5) Another JAMA study found those with multiple concussions were more likely to report suicidal thoughts.

6) The strain of war takes a toll, especially when there are extended tours.

7) Rapid deployment and exposure to combat act like a catalyst to worsen existing problems.

8) Untreated Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and PTSD are risk factors.

9) Delay in services and treament. The federal government does not have a handle on how to deliver prompt and efficient services.

10) Officers are busy and do not always pay attention to their soldiers, especially first-termers. Thus, the signs of suicide can go unnoticed.

The military has initiated suicide prevention programs. Soldiers are taught to “Ask, Care and Escort” anyone who talks about suicide. The idea is to get those at risk to a provider and not leave them alone. There is also a prevention lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK.

We have to do better when it comes to the care of our soldiers. They risk their lives for us. We need to be there to help when they need us.


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