Two stories out this week suggest that you have a lot more to worry about than just getting shot at by the enemy in today’s Army.
Today, the Army reported that suicides for 2007 jumped 20% over the previous year, up to 121 soldiers. CNN has the story:
Internal briefing papers prepared by the Army’s psychiatry consultant earlier this month show there were 89 confirmed suicides last year and 32 deaths that are suspected suicides and still under investigation.
More than a quarter of the combined total — about 34 — died while serving a tour of duty in Iraq, an increase from 27 in Iraq the previous year, according to the preliminary figures.
The report also showed an increase in the number of attempted suicides and self-injuries — some 2,100 in 2007 compared to less than 1,500 the previous year and less than 500 in 2002.
The total of 121 suicides last year, if all are confirmed, would be more than double the 52 reported in 2001, before the September 11 attacks prompted the Bush administration to launch its counter-terror war.
Mental health care is sorely underutilized in the Army and other armed services. Not because it isn’t made available to soldiers and officers, but because making use of it acts as a black mark on a soldier’s official record. Such a mark will often severely limit that person’s career advancement within the armed services, and may deny them access to the usual lines of promotion and advancement.
So what do Army soldiers and officers do? They simply don’t seek out mental health care and try and deal with their feelings on their own. And we all know what can happen when you try and treat severe depression or hopelessness on your own — it can lead to very bad things. Like suicide.
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As we previously discussed, undiagnosed head trauma could be the cause of some people’s mental disorders.
But another study just released today suggests something related — that symptoms attributed to a brain injury might actually be the sign of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) instead. US Today has the story:
In the New England Journal study, researchers used this survey on 2,525 soldiers in 2006, three to four months after combat. They found about 15% tested positive for mild brain injury under the CDC definition. Researchers found that these soldiers, particularly those who had blacked out, had many health problems.
But when researchers did a statistical analysis comparing soldiers with a mild brain injury, with those who also had PTSD or only had PTSD, they found that health problems were more likely the result of post traumatic stress disorder and depression.
The new study suggests that Army docs were too quickly attributing soldiers’ symptoms to brain injuries when they were actually more likely caused by the PTSD. It’s an important differentiation, because the treatments for one versus the other are usually different.
Our armed service personnel have a lot to deal with, both on the field and afterwards when they return home. I hope our government is putting more effort and resources into understand how they can be better cared for when in need, without the stigma traditionally attached to seeking treatment for mental health issues.