Tuesday, 14 August 2012
The July 23 issue of Time Magazine article “The War On Suicide” brought the issue of veteran suicide into the mainstream news, and the living rooms and lives of all Americans. The article discussed the implications of the shocking statistic that in the first 155 days of 2012, 154 active duty American troops had committed suicide.While the reasons for the up tick in suicides are not well understood, it is well known that soldiers and vets are commonly diagnosed with mental health disorders, including PTSD. A recent Canadian study suggests that all vets, and particularly those with PTSD, should also be screened for major depression as it is “the single strongest driver of suicidal thinking.”
In the study, almost 25% of participants (all active-duty troops) admitted they had experienced thoughts of self-harm. The biggest indicator of these thoughts was (besides a probable diagnosis of PTSD) the severity of the depression symptoms they were experiencing. Of the 250 surveyed participants, 75% met the criteria for probable major depression.
Why aren’t vets being identified and getting help? Several theories exist, including the fear of stigma (many soldiers said they feel afraid to ask for help, as any sign of weakness could means they are overlooked for advancement opportunities), and the lack of understanding of suicidality by senior military officials (like Major General Dana Pittard telling soldiers considering suicide to “act like an adult”).
The military has taken some positive steps to help our soldiers; they have set up confidential hotlines, put additional mental health specialists on the battlefield, added trainings in stress management, and invested in research. Additionally, the Navy has published facts and information about suicide to try and combat stigma.
While the impact of the military’s suicide prevention programs is unknown, their attention to the issue is encouraging. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said “We must continue to fight to eliminate the stigma from those with post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues… [we] cannot tolerate any actions that belittle, haze, humiliate or ostracize any individual, especially those who require or are responsibly seeking professional services."
The US Department of Veteran’s Affairs has extensive information available for veterans through their website, include links to anonymous screenings and information about how to get help. Additional resources are available for veterans and their families through Veterans Crisis Line.
If you or someone you care about is contemplating suicide, call 1-800-273-TALK. Veterans, push 1.