Understanding the Alarming Rate of Suicide Among Soldiers

A report released by the Pentagon earlier this year revealed a disturbing statistic:  A soldier is more likely to die from suicide than war injuries.

Among active troops, suicide rates increased 18 percent from last year.  Rates among veterans were also at distressing levels, with a veteran dying by suicide every 80 minutes, according to an estimate from the Department of Veterans Affairs and reported in this month’s Monitor on Psychology.

When faced with a problem of these proportions, it is vital to understand what factors increase the likelihood of suicide and which interventions are the most effective.

In response, the Army has prepared training for soldiers and families -- to help them recognize signs of suicidal behavior, and to inform them of interventions and ways to access support. And this past August, President Obama signed an executive order that strengthened suicide prevention efforts for service members and veterans.

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Why Powerful Men Cheat

Both men and women cheat -- regardless of race, age or stature, according to Terri Orbuch, author of Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship. In fact, about 32 percent of married men and 20 percent of married women report being unfaithful, she said.

But when powerful men -- most recently CIA Director General David Petraeus -- admit to infidelity, we’re often taken aback. (Or maybe some of us aren’t that shocked, after all.)

Petraeus joins a long line of philanderers in prominent positions: Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton and John Edwards, just to name a few.

But regardless of whether you’re surprised to hear these men strayed, the question is the same: Why?

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Joining the Army? You’re More Likely to Die by Suicide than Combat

In a sad commentary about the state of affairs of a modern army, the U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said on Wednesday that there are "still huge gaps" in the way mental disorders are diagnosed within the military.

With over 150 active military suicides so far in 2012, if you're in the U.S. military, you're more likely to have died by your own hand than you were to have died in combat.

This, then, is apparently not a good time to be in the military.

Farah Mohamed, writing for McClatchy Newspapers, has the story.

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In Honor of the Fallen 2012

Memorial Day is a solemn occasion to remember the fallen who have given our nation the ultimate price that can be paid -- their very lives -- for our country, and in the name of democracy. While we mark the day with outdoor barbeques and get-togethers with family and friends, we should try to take a moment to remember the real purpose of this day.

I give thanks for the hundreds of...
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VA Lied About Wait Times

Up until Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) claimed that 95 percent of the vets are seen within 14 days after contacting them for mental health issues if not in crisis. We now know that's a lie.

Federal investigators revealed yesterday that half the veterans who seek out mental health care in the VA system waited about 50 days -- not 14 -- before receiving a full evaluation. That's not just a tiny lie. That's a lie covering up a wait time that is 350 percent greater than the VA's original claims. A wait time that clearly demonstrates that demand is outstripping supply of qualified mental health professionals.

But wait, it gets better. Because that's not the only thing the VA has been fudging the numbers about.

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VA Ups Mental Health Clinicians by 1600, But Is It Enough?

I applaud the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) decision last week to increase its mental health staffing in facilities by nearly 10 percent across the board, adding up to 1,600 new clinicians -- psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and more. (My sources within the VA indicate most of these positions will be LPC and Master's level clinicians -- not psychologists or psychiatrists.)

It's a good step forward as the military struggles with the hundreds of thousands of returning vets who have increasing mental health needs. Most of the new hires -- about 1,400 -- will be clinicians that work directly with vet patients.

But let's also put this into some perspective, too. According to its website, the VA operates 172 hospitals across the United States, and 837 outpatient clinics. That's 1,009 places where a vet can go to get help. That means that, on average, each clinic or hospital will get 1.4 new clinicians.

One and a half new clinicians per facility? Not nearly as impressive.

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Sex and the Secret Service: A Drop in a Larger Bucket

As a therapist, author, and treatment expert in the area of problem sexual behavior and sexual addiction, I have been privileged to provide multiple educational programs for US Military Chaplains and Military Family Advocacy therapists worldwide, trainings specifically related to the growing concern of problem sexual behavior by US servicemen and women -- both on and off base. 

The current drama now playing out in the media related to US Secret Service agents’ procurement of prostitutes while on assignment is without question the tip of the iceberg of a concern that is both under-recognized and misunderstood by both military leaders and the general public.

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Mindfulness and the Military: Does Self-Acceptance Help Veterans?

“The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don't wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.” 
~Thich Nhat Hanh

 “You have to make the mind run the body.”
~General George S. Patton Jr.

A recently published article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology by Kearney, McDermott, Malte, Martinez, and Simpson (2012) may have broad implications for veterans suffering with symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

These researchers demonstrated that engagement in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) showed significant improvements after six months in reducing soldiers' symptoms of PTSD, depression, behavioral activation (the ability to engage in activities to achieve a goal in spite of aversive symptoms), and self-acceptance. 

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Soldiers: The War Within

“Guilt is a part of the battlefield that often goes unrecognized,” writes Nancy Sherman, a professor at Georgetown University, in her book The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds and Souls of Our Soldiers. But along with profound guilt comes a variety of emotions and moral issues that tug at soldiers, creating an inner war.

Sherman, who also served as the Inaugural Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the Naval Academy, delves into the emotional toll war takes on soldiers. Her book is based on her interviews with 40 soldiers. Most of the soldiers fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, while some fought in Vietnam and the World Wars.

She poignantly looks at their stories from the lens of philosophy and psychoanalysis, using these frameworks to better understand and analyze their words.

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Jumping Without a Chute: Honoring Our Veterans, 2011

Today is Veterans Day in the U.S., a day to give thanks and honor all who serve our country in the military. While the military has made some strides in recent years in acknowledging the mental health problems of both veterans and active military personnel, it remains an area where prejudice and misconceptions run rampant.

A soldier wouldn't jump out of a plane without checking their parachute to make sure it was secured and in working order. Yet they are jumping out of active duty into a system that isn't prepared for their needs, and remains underfunded and under-resourced.

For instance, last week we discussed these continuing challenges with mental health services and the rate of suicide in the military today, among vets and active duty soldiers.

Each year in the U.S. approximately 35,000 - 37,000 people die by suicide. It's the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., ahead of things like hypertension, homicide and Parkinson's disease (all things that get a lot more news and research attention than suicide).

About 100 people kill themselves each day. Nearly 20 percent of those who take their lives is a veteran -- or about 18 vets a day. Let that sink in for a moment, because it's a big number.

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Military Continues to Face Challenges in Mental Health, Suicides

The U.S. military continues to face many challenges when it comes to mental health care for both their active duty personnel in the field, and when soldiers return home to inadequate care.

The numbers are staggering. In July 2011, 33 active and reserve component service members died as a result of suicide -- a record high month. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates 18 veterans die by suicide each and every day.

While the military has worked hard to focus on the problem in recent years, the new report released by the Center for a New American Security suggests it still has a long way to go.

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Reminder, Event Today at Noon in DC

Just a friendly reminder that if you're in the greater Washington DC area today at Noon, stop by Taft Memorial Park for the 8th Annual Capitol Hill Event and Global Night for Hope (learn more at the link).

This year’s event focuses on Veterans and Active Duty Military. The event features a keynote speech by Colonel Holzworth, as well as Ret. Lt. Colonel David Glassman, Ret. Colonel George Patrin , and Ret. Col. Robert A. Strom. Psych Central is one of the sponsors of...
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