Msnowe's Blog

We need to end it.

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on August 16, 2007

According to the new military report, suicide deaths in the military are at one of the highest rates in decades, and it comes with little surprise. The rate is now hovering around 17.3 suicides per 100,000 people. The national average for US suicides overall is around 12 per 100,000. That means roughly five more people, per 100,000, feel it is necessary to prematurely end their lives. And these are just the confirmed cases, which also exclusive failed suicide attempts.

It’s to be expected in such high stress environments that numbers for suicide would go up. No one is claiming that a soldier’s life isn’t hard in Iraq or Afghanistan. But what bothers many is the whole recruiting process involved in military service. Because of the higher risk, there should also be better screening in place; better methods to analyze psychological status, and the realization that sheer numbers on the ground should never trump mental quality.

It was estimated that at least 25% of those who committed suicide in the military in the past year were suffering from some type of psychiatric disorder, among them being: Post Traumatic Stress, bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety disorders. Surely, the perils of active duty brought out these conditions in many, and allowed them to swell to their dangerous proportions. But the military is not one to be completely open, for good reasons – but also complicated ones that don’t always benefit (if ever) the conditions of their soldiers.

The military may only use “don’t ask don’t tell” in terms of sexual orientation, but the rules are strikingly similar when exposed to issues of psychological health. The stigma placed around people with mental issues is perhaps second only to homosexuality (which frankly, some military scatterbrained and ignorant people consider a mental issue anyways). Soldiers will not openly talk about their problems, and are encouraged to keep clammed up. Also, recruiters don’t discount people on the hunch that they may because a bit unhinged down the road. I’ve seen recruiters in my schools, recruiters in subways with young boys in tow, and coming to a preschool near you: recruiters delivering US Army provided milk cartons and cookies. This isn’t to say people who serve are country were hoodwinked into it – the utmost respect should be given to them all, and the best way to do that is fight for their rights – most physically and mentally. The military therefore needs to put into place a series of programs and a national atmosphere of openness and honesty, not fear of potential retaliation or punishment for something beyond a person’s control. But this is a lofty goal. Let’s start with better screening, and better psychological care of those soldiers both on the battlefields, and newly discharged. If the Walter Reed situation has taught us anything, its that the system in place to aid our county’s bravest is in desperate need of an overhaul, and now.

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