ARMY SUICIDE; Preventable Deaths

The Florida Times Union, October 30, 2008 | Go to article overview
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ARMY SUICIDE; Preventable Deaths

Suicide in the military is an "emerging mental health crisis."

The numbers bear that out, as reported by The Associated Press.

Thousands deployed: Over 1.6 million troops have been deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Persian Gulf since Sept. 11, 2001. Nearly 550,000 of these troops have been deployed more than once.

Mental issues: About 300,000 who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have anxiety or post-traumatic stress, reported a Rand study released in April.

The Army surgeon general reports a 46 percent increase last year in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder.

What it means: The effect of this is family breakup, unemployment, homelessness and, possibly, suicide.

Seeking help: Only 53 percent of service members with post-traumatic stress or depression sought help over the past year, Rand reported.

Suicide increasing: Army soldiers committed suicide in 2007 at the highest rate on record, AP reports. The annual rate is now double the Army's 2001 rate.

Suicide is the fourth-most common cause of death for soldiers, behind enemy action, accidents and illnesses.

Suicide attempts: Ten to 20 times as many soldiers have thought of or attempted suicide. The Army only recently began to track suicide attempts among its personnel.

While 70 percent of soldiers who feel stressed will bounce back, about 20 percent will suffer temporary stress symptoms and 10 percent will suffer stress illnesses, Time magazine reported.

The Army has lost over 580 soldiers by suicide since the war on terror began, which is equivalent to losing an entire infantry battalion task force, reported the Army in a suicide prevention guide.

Numbers significant: The suicide rate in the Army is approaching the rate for the overall population of young people, even though Army personnel are screened and have regular medical care.

Causes at issue: Long and repeated deployments of 12 to 15 months result in young men and women witnessing horrifying events. The military culture often views asking for help as a sign of weakness.

You didn't need to be on the front lines to see horrifying things in Iraq. Vehicles could be blown up at any time. The regular tension, the uncertainty can be wearing.

Army is acting: The Army has moved to provide more education, training and screening of the troops.

It's important that troops and family members are trained to recognize the symptoms of depression, since the person with the illness may not be conscious of it.

Volunteers needed: Many more mental health professionals are needed. In fact, private mental health counselors are offering free services to veterans.

One example is Give an Hour, which involves about 1,200 mental health professionals nationally who are donating one hour a week to troops, veterans or family members, the AP reports. The goal is to find 40,000 volunteers in the next three years, backed by a $1 million grant from the Lilly Foundation.

Another reason to involve the private sector is to avoid the stigma that still follows mental illness throughout society.

There ought to be pro-active efforts to screen veterans for symptoms of mental illness, people who may appear to be handling their stresses on the outside.

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