Terms such as “Soldier’s Heart,” “shell shock,” and “Combat Stress Reaction” have all been used to describePost Traumatic Stress Disorder in the military. War and PTSD have a long history together, as does the stigma behind mental health within military culture.In the following excerpt from The Last and Greatest Battle John Bateson discusses the dangers of underreported PTSD and the steps we can take to help prevent military suicides.
In June 2015, the results of a new study by the Department of Veterans Affairs were released. The study examined more than 170,000 suicides of adult men and women in 23 states between 2000 and 2010, and concluded that female military veterans kill themselves at a rate that is nearly six times higher than their civilian counterparts.
In 1789, President George Washington said, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.” Judging by this standard, we are failing.
The stigma of mental illness poses a major barrier when it comes to individuals seeking help. As a society, we are much more comfortable admitting physical problems than psychological ones. Nowhere is this more true than in the military, where troops are trained to be tough and not acknowledge any weaknesses.
According to a new study of nearly 4 million men and women who served in the military between 2001 and 2007, deploying to a war zone doesn’t increase a service member’s risk of suicide. The study was conducted by the military’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology, and its findings would seem to serve the military’s purpose. After all, if no causal connection is found between deployment and suicide, recruitment efforts aren’t affected.
Fifteen years ago, the suicide rate among patients in a large behavioral care system in Detroit was seven times the national average. Then leaders there decided to tackle the problem. The first question asked was what should be the goal—to cut the rate in half, reduce it to the national level, or more? One employee said even a single suicide was unacceptable if it was your loved one, and that helped set the target: zero.