Suicide Risk Multiplies for Service Members
> 6/12/2007 12:22:20 PM

Soldiers who've experienced the horrors of combat and lawlessness sureto accompany any lengthy military campaign are inevitably prone todepression, drug abuse and especially PTSD - this fact is wellestablished. But a recent large-scale surveyindicates that the issue is much more tragically prevalent: the suiciderate for service members, particularly men, who've seen action in thefield is more than twice that of the general public. They also veryoften end their lives with firearms - veterans are considerably morelikely to own weapons for personal use, and those who commit suicideuse a gun more often than others in a shocking reflection of theviolence that leads so many into that most desperate state.

Approximatelyone-third of the study's more than 300,000 participants served during aperiod stretching from WWII to the first Gulf War. While conflictsconsidered in the survey extended only to 1991, with researchersdeciding against the inclusion of the ongoing fallout from the struggle in Iraq, its implications are troublingto say the least. While modern medicine has allowed for far moresoldiers to survive severe injuries, our mastery of mental illness isnot nearly so complete. In the words of the study's lead researcher:

"I don't see anything out there that really bodes well for a decline in the risk for suicide. I think that this will persist."

Certainsmall facts add elements of interest to the results: older, white,well-educated men, especially those suffering from major healthproblems, made up the group most at risk. Women were not considered asthey represented a much smaller portion of the study pool and theirsuicide rates were negligable. Health care was not a factor consideredin the equation, so unsatisfactory coverage or an absence of beneficialtherapies could not be blamed for the stunning numbers. The study wasnot designed to explain the reasons behind this terrible trend, but onecan certainly draw obvious conclusions: the trauma of months spent inthe theatres of foreign turmoil, surrounded by the horrid air of deathand far removed from loved ones, lead many into a state of perpetualshock, profoundly altering neurological and emotional response systems.Some never recover.

General sentiment, unfortunately, seemsintent on furthering the tragic assertion that soldiers who seektreatment do so due to an inability to respond to and "deal with" thehorrors of combat. The fact that an increasing number of soldiers nowenroll in therapy has led some to dismiss younger servicemen as weak,ravaged by self-doubt. Some report physical and psychological punishment or threats of expulsionat the hands of commanding officers. But despite romantic nostalgia fortimes past, those who served our nation in previous conflicts were nobraver, more patriotic, or stronger of will. We now simply have a farclearer understanding of PTSD, depression and the havok thoseconditions wreak on the psyches of even the best-grounded individuals.Unfortunately, we cannot prevent or erase the risk. While personal orgroup therapy and regular discussions with fellow veterans similarlyaffected by the war experience may not be universal miracle cures, theyare undeniably beneficial to many - and should be encouraged for all.

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