According to the Los Angeles Times, military officials have reported that this past year (2008), the suicide rate among Army soldiers reached its highest level in thirty years. The news came in a report that pointed to the inadequacy of anti-suicide efforts undertaken in recent years.
From the story:
At least 128 Army soldiers took their own lives last year — an estimated suicide rate of 20.2 per 100,000, a sharp increase from the 2007 rate of 16.8.
Note: That’s a nearly 20% increase in the suicide rate — and it also does not include additional folks below. I’m not sure about the total math/percentage increase (math has never been my strong suit, and I’m short on time), but 143 is more suicide casualties than 128.
Also Thursday, Marine Corps officials revised their suicide numbers upward, reporting a rate of 19.0 per 100,000 in 2008, the highest for the Marines since 1995.
“Why do the numbers keep going up? We cannot tell you,” Army Secretary Pete Geren said.
Army officials believe that contributing factors include emotional and psychological stress caused by repeated combat deployments, along with the toll that the tours have taken on marriages.
Despite official reticence on this, there are a whole lot of people who can add insight into how and why suicide can go hand-in-hand with traumatic brain injury. I found this presentation on Suicide Attempts Following Traumatic Brain Injury that helps shed light on things.
I think that a wide array of issues play into this — the times we live in, when a state of war is pretty much constant (be it on battlefields abroad or at home, where the War On Terror is inescapable), so much intense pressure is placed on military personnel whose service is more needed/desired/required than ever before (and on so many more levels), and there is far less social and cultural support for our walking wounded, once they return home. The fact that soldiers are being deployed out of reserve ranks — not career military — complicates things, too, I believe. Plus, our whole society’s treatment of our soldiers is a recipe for disaster — on the one hand, those who serve are given no choice but to go, often leaving dependent families behind, but the society which requires their unquestioning service insists on preying on those left behind. Banks foreclose on soldiers’ homes. Employers refuse to allow families and loved ones any leeway in seeing these soldiers — I used to work with a woman who quit a job she needed because her employer wouldn’t give her a few days off to spend with her son who was being redeployed to Iraq. And once our service members return, they are all too often NOT given proper care by those charged with their well-being, and they are returned to an ignorant, self-absorbed society which doesn’t understand their injuries, their needs, their unique circumstances — all created in the name of protecting the very ignorant, self-obsessed society that treats them like crap.
And adding insult to injury, the wounds that many of our soldiers sustain are hidden from the rest of the world — TBI & PTSD — or are considered signs of “bad behavior” or “poor discipline”, rather than bona fide injuries with real physical and mental health consequences. So, rather than being able to find help, these folks — and their families, who may or may not know about TBI and how it can and does affect them — are marginalized even more from society, forced to fend for themselves in our “information society” with injuries that A) keep them from participating fully, B) keep them from realizing the extent of their difficulties, and C) keep them from reaching out effectively to get the help they need.
The truly frightening thing — as if all this isn’t horrifying enough — is that their problems will ultimately become all of society’s problems, sooner or later. As though it weren’t bad enough that our men and women in uniform are being severely injured in ways that prevent them from accessing help, but their injuries over the long term can morph and evolve and become far more serious and far more intractable than they might be, if they were able to get help up front. And that has ramifications for their families, their employers, their communities, law enforcement, public services… really, anyone who has anything to do with them if/when they’re having bad days on down the line. And some lobbyist-compromised politician in Washington will propose harsher, longer, more draconian laws and prison terms as a “solution” to all these “bad people” who “can’t control themselves”.
Of course (and I’m being sarcastic now), this is all very well and good for the prison industry, which can hire out inmates to corporations that need cheap labor. In the absence of illegal aliens and people willing to work under the table and cheap offshore personnel, there could eventually be an abundance of prison-based workers whose labor is available for pennies on the dollar, all within the borders of these United States.
Okay, I’ve stopped being sarcastic. For those who are concerned about the possibility of a loved one who’s sustained a TBI and PTSD during deployment, there is a lot of help available out there online that you can access for free. There are lots of websites that talk about TBI, there is a lot of information to read. There are videos on You Tube you can watch. And there are online forums for vets and their families where you can turn for support.
You do not need to suffer alone. There are many, many people — military and otherwise (I’m not military) — who have lots of life experience with TBI and dealing with it constructively. You don’t have to be at the mercy of the VA or officials who aren’t able to be forthcoming with the facts and details about TBI (and PTSD) and how they affect people’s lives. So, reach out. Speak up. Participate and contribute. We cannot change the injuries we’ve sustained, but we need not suffer in isolation. We may not be able to 100% cure our conditions, but in some way or another, we can heal.