US military suicides reach record level
Roxanne Escobales and agencies
Friday February 1, 2008
The suicide rate among US soldiers has reached its highest level since records began almost 30 years ago. Last year, 121 active members of the army took their own lives, up 20% on the previous year. Thirty-four of last year's deaths were in Iraq, compared with 27 in 2006.
Also on the rise are attempted suicides and self-harm. The number of US soldiers who tried but failed to kill themselves or who deliberately injured themselves rose to 2,100 in 2007, up from 500 in 2002.
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When the Washington Post reported on the suicides and the attempted suicides of US forces, the world was watching as they have since the beginning of deaths following the Vietnam War. The entire world has been watching and waiting for America to take this seriously and take action. While our healthcare as a whole is sorely lacking, our doctors, scientist and psychologists have been leading the way in many treatments. So why not this one?
While the military has been focusing on "winning" the "war" which is really two occupations producing higher and higher deaths, they fail miserably at focusing on what these two occupations are doing to the US forces they sent to risk their lives. In the silent suffering of the American military families, we also fail to see how this is all effecting them. Has anyone tracked how many divorces or suicides or suicide attempts they have made since this began?
Why "silent suffering" term is used? Because no one is paying attention to them. They are key to the survival and healing of the wounded when they come home. They are key to the families they are raising. Why are they forgotten?
When my husband came home from Vietnam, his father, a WWII veteran, told him to get over it. His mother opted to ignore it. By the time we met, he had been home for 10 years. The signs of PTSD were there to the point where my father, a Korean War veteran, said Jack had shell shock. The hunt for the invisible killer inside of him began. What I didn't know was that Jack had mild PTSD to the point where he could function enough to go to work, be sociable enough that he was willing to enter into movies and clubs, but not enough to stay. He was able to talk a lot more to me, but still had a hard time talking to others. His nightmares, flashbacks and physical symptoms left him drained but not to the point where he was unable to do things during the day. I accepted the oddities of him as "quirks" finding some of them cute. Even with all of this the day we got married 23 years ago, I married my best friend.
It was not until a secondary stressor hit that our world took a nosedive and I was suddenly married to a man I no longer knew.
This is happening all across the country today. Some come home with PTSD in a mild form and function but their family members can see the changes. They can see the times when the veteran has a flashback but if they don't know what it is, the connection between combat and the zone out are not made. They can see the odd reactions to sudden moves or noises, they can become shocked with the mood swings and wonder what they did to set it off. They notice it all but if they don't know what they are witnessing first hand, they are helpless to do anything about it.
It is damn near impossible to get them to go for help. Even knowing what I did back then it took years to get Jack to go for help. They go into a denial stage where they know there is something wrong with them but refuse to come to the conclusion they need help to get back to "normal" and seek to deal with it in their own way. They turn to self-medicating to kill off feelings they don't want to feel.
This is only the PTSD part of all of this. The families need support to go through the stress of separations and being a single parent over and over again. They have to deal with the loneliness as well as the constant worry while their spouse is deployed, risking their lives and facing death or serious wounds. This adds to the stress of the families. When the spouse, son or daughter comes home, there is a euphoria epidemic taking over the entire family. The relief that they returned covers the problems that are there. Then they enter into their own state of denial that with time, they will get over what they went through and everything will go back to normal. The family cannot see that there is nothing normal about combat.
There needs to be a nation wide emergency alert to address all the issues the soldiers face along with their families. We know the redeployments increase the risk of PTSD and increase the pressure on the families at home. We know financial problems associated with the Reservists and Guardsmen make all of this worse for them. We know that early intervention for PTSD works best. We also know that medications need to be monitored and there has to be therapy included in on addressing PTSD for it to work. We know all of this because of our researchers but we do none of it. When will this nation take the lead on this? The rest of the world is watching our troops and their families suffer. Do we really want to be considered leaders in needless suffering instead of healing?
"The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation." - George Washington