Post-war stress neglected far too long
From Sept. 24-26, four soldiers committed suicide at the Texas Army base at Ft. Hood. When those four are added to the 14 others who have taken their lives earlier in the year, it becomes clear that the programs that are in place to address the mental health concerns of soldiers are not working.
It’s easy to ignore what happens thousands of miles away, but the recent suicides tell us that what happens abroad is impacting us over here. As many families (including my own) wait to hear where loved ones will be deployed, the rise in soldier suicides become an increasing concern.
Around military bases, crimes such as domestic violence, drunk and disorderly conduct and assault are on the rise when soldiers return from war. One of the four soldiers who committed suicide may have killed his wife as well. In 2009 at Ft. Hood, 2,445 soldiers were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder against just 310 in 2004. Six thousand soldiers were on anti-depressants, and 1,400 received anti-psychotic drugs. Counselors now meet with more than 4,000 patients a month.
These numbers are alarming. We can see that there is mental health support for those who seek it. What we don’t see is the stigma involved for soldiers who do reach out for help.
Some go to off-base therapy so that their visit stays off of their records. Soldiers should not be made to feel ashamed for realizing that they have a mental health problem and are seeking help.
There are mental health issues that medications address, and soldiers who need them should be able to obtain them without barriers. At the same time, we need to be aware that these powerful drugs, given on their own, do not solve the deeper problem; they merely treat symptoms. For some, medication is enough to help them cope with their mental illness. For others, it simply isn’t. What are soldiers supposed to do when medications and counseling aren’t enough?
While official combat in Iraq has been declared over, approximately 50,000 soldiers remain there in an advisory position. The stress that soldiers are under isn’t going to disappear. It seems that for a growing number of soldiers, being able to cope with their trauma isn’t enough. Will the military work to help these soldiers face the underlying causes of their mental illness, or will suicide be an acceptable consequence of war?
Megan Walter is an Anthropology junior and may be reached at [email protected].