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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Event: 8th Annual Capitol Hill Event and Global Night for Hope

I'm pleased to announce that Psych Central is sponsoring this year's 8th Annual Capitol Hill Event and Global Night for Hope, an event to shed light on the tragedy of active duty military and veterans suicides.

We're joining the IMAlive team, Kristin Brooks Hope Center (founders of 1-800-SUICIDE), iFred, Post Secret, invited Congressmen, Senators and Press, along with Veteran Service Organizations on the lawn of the US Capitol to bring attention to this issue, as military suicides continue to climb.

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 M.D., and Ret. Col. Robert A. Strom.

Mr. Holzworth and Mr. Glassman are national heroes who have worked together for eight years and have collectively trained over 15,000 men and women at the Marine Aviation Training Support Group in Pensacola, Florida.

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Brain and Behavior

The Curious Case of Phineas Gage and Others Like Him

If you’ve ever taken an introductory psychology class, then you probably know the story of Phineas Gage, the 25-year-old railroad worker whose personality dramatically changed after a rod pierced his skull.

Gage lost portions of his frontal lobe and went from being a kind and mild-mannered man to rude and unrestrained.

On September 21, 1848, The Boston Post reported on the incident. The article was called “Horrible Accident" and said:
As Phineas P. Gage, a foreman on the railroad in Cavendish, was yesterday engaged in tamping for a blast, the powder exploded, carrying an instrument through his head an inch in length, which he was using at the time. The iron entered on the side of his face, shattering the upper jaw, and passing back of the left eye, and out at the top of the head.
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Presidents As Patients: An Interview With Dr. Connie Mariano

Eleanor Concepcion “Connie” Mariano has quite an impressive resume -- even for a doctor. Not only was Dr. Mariano -- or, Dr. Connie, as she’s more intimately known by a few -- the first Filipino-American to become a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy, but she was also the first American woman to be appointed the Director of the White House Medical Unit.

In June 2010, Dr. Mariano released The White House Doctor: My Patients Were Presidents: A Memoir (Thomas Dune Books, 2010).

I was able to speak with her recently about the psychology behind spending nine years caring for three Presidents of the United States through everything from surprisingly panic-inducing blisters to that sex scandal heard 'round the world.

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How to Reach Members of the Military and their Families?

As I was researching The Happiness Project, I was struck by the fact that I often found it more helpful to read about one person's idiosyncratic happiness project than to read about general principles applying to all humankind or studies applying to large populations. For some reason, reading about Thoreau's very individual decision to move to Walden Pond, or St. Therese's struggle to stay patient with the nun who made clicking noises during evening prayers, was what taught me most about myself.

I've heard from people whose lives are very different from mine, on the surface -- but it turns out that we face many of the same challenges in our happiness projects.

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Remembering Those Who Died for Us, 2011

It's hard to repay the debt of a human life. Yet today in the United States, we remember those who died for us, fighting in wars to keep our freedoms safe from those who would take them away from us.

War still rages around us, soldiers still fight today. And every month, soldiers die fighting for us. For our democracy. For our country.

I'm not sure how to repay that debt. All I can do is remember and give thanks to those who fell in battle, because without their sacrifice, I'm not sure I'd be here living in one of the world's greatest democracies.

Memorial Day's roots can be traced back to the Civil War, when people who honor those who fought in that bloody war by decorating the graves of the dead. After WWI, it was expanded to recognize the sacrifices given by those who fight in any war.
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VA Mental Health Care is So Bad, It’s Unconstitutional

So says a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, after reviewing the evidence about the ability of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to offer an appropriately level of mental health care and treatment to returning soldiers.

In this way, the costs of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been grossly underestimated, because they don't take into account the increased needs and costs of the vets' ongoing and increasing mental health care. The longer we're at war, the worse it's going to get.

According to the article on about the recent ruling, not only do some vets have to wait weeks to get in to see a mental health professional at many VA medical centers, but there's often no significant triaging done. Actively suicidal vets may not get the care they need, before it's too late.

The result? Nearly one-third of the vets who end up committing suicide do so while under VA care. But two-thirds aren't even being seen by the VA for a mental health concern.

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Psych Central Roundup: The Death of Osama bin Laden

By now, you know the news: Osama bin Laden is no more. Whether he died in a blazing gunfight or was taken out by surprise (the reports are a little vague here), Seal Team 6 completed their mission.

And for some people, that completed mission was cause for celebration.  Last Sunday evening and Monday morning, American flags were hoisted into the air, people stood out on the streets cheering and the internet was buzzing with elation. If you owned a Twitter or Facebook account, you saw it. 

I certainly did.  In fact, I learned about bin Laden's death before the President even announced it: I was Facebook chatting with the very friend who was sitting next to me almost 10 years ago when the twin towers came down and suddenly, status updates were exploding.

"I think Osama bin Laden was just shot," I typed to my friend who had been in the same English classroom on September 11th, who had rushed to the phone at the same time as me, our fathers both frequent passengers on that particular flight across the US, "I can't be sure but Facebook is freaking out."

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Should You Tell Your Boss About a Mental Illness?

Many people struggle with the question of whether or not to tell their bosses about their mood disorders at work. Washington Post columnist Amy Joyce wrote an excellent article on this a few years ago. I have included the first few paragraphs below, but urge you to read the rest of her article, as it gives no straight answers but explores that terrain with great depth.
If you have depression or some other mental illness, what do you do about work? Hope no one notices? Disclose your illness early on and trust that your boss will understand?

Should You Tell is a complicated question.

There is no right answer, and there are some risks to consider.

I discovered this years ago after watching a movie at home with two friends. One of them looked up, scared. She hesitated. And then she let it out: "Do you hear them? The helicopters. They're coming for me, guys."
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