Army Begins Mental Health Campaign
> 8/23/2009 11:01:34 AM

Responding to several years of reports on widespread mental health issues within their ranks, the U.S. Army has begun to implement a comprehensive program designed to create more emotionally resilient troops and counter climbing rates of depression, PTSD and suicide. The program, which involves classroom instruction and other training methods and goes by the name "Real Warriors Campaign", will begin in October and gradually make its way into basic training for all current active duty soldiers, reservists and National Guard members. In time it will also be available to military family members and civilian employees of the American armed forces.
The issue behind this move has been festering for a while: in 2008, suicide rates among American military members surpassed those among the general population for the first time in history. Self-harm and suicide are clearly the most traumatic symptoms of what may now be called an epidemic, but as the Army's Vice Chief of Staff recently said in a public statement, mental health treatment goes far beyond suicide prevention. He named the most important goals to be the reduction of domestic violence rates, the abuse of alcohol and drugs, and DUI/reckless driving incidents that endanger civilians. An independent pilot program also allows soldiers with alcohol problems to self-report without endangering their careers.
Many remain resistant. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Casey recently voiced doubts as to whether military culture is ready to accept such a program. It will be a hard sell, he said, to beginning privates and veterans who may see it as an emasculating sensitivity exercise. The plan also remains experimental in nature as no clinical studies have proven that emotional resilience can be taught in a classroom, but the obvious need for such services overrides these concerns. The plan operates on the simple principle that those who examine their thoughts and impulses are more likely to act rationally when making decisions, be they everyday or life-and-death. By teaching soldiers how to better ground themselves psychologically, the campaign aims to allow them to be more effective on assignment and to restrain their behavior in real-world settings.
Army mental health services are not directly tied to the plan itself, and all medical information will remain private. In order to test the plan's efficiency, the armed forces will require each member to fill out lengthy mental health questionnaires on a regular basis. Again, officials act on faith that service members will be forthcoming and answer all personal questions as honestly as possible.
All involved in this effort should be applauded for their actions - the "better late than never" dictum certainly applies. But this announcement is only the beginning of a long-term process that will play out in homes and treatment facilities across the country as well as fields of operation halfway around the world. As we've learned from studies of mental illness among Vietnam veterans, the trauma of battle can derail the lives of entire families, and its influence on those most affected does not diminish over time. Now that the armed forces have begun to institute their program, the changes it promotes will eventually become ingrained in every soldier's experience despite some inevitable stumbling blocks. We hope that they're accepted and brought into mainstream military culture as soon as possible.

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