According to the U.S. Army, the June 2010 statistics for military suicides look as grim as ever. Despite all of the prevention programs being studied and implemented, 32 soldiers reportedly took their own life. That is more than one soldier per day.
Just as the Army released the dismal numbers for June suicides, my email inbox started filling up with messages from military family members questioning the accuracy of these figures. They have a right to be concerned because although the numbers are shocking each time they are released, upon closer examination they may not be entirely correct. This is because most people see these statistics and think of the obvious causes such as PTSD since the current prevention programs are designed for just such cases. So why are the numbers not going down?
It is possible that numbers of actual suicides may be lower when one takes into account the number of families who are currently disputing the finding of "suicide" as their loved ones cause of death. Many believe their soldier's death was murder. If you think it is denial and grief influencing their beliefs, please know that some of these families are armed with strong evidence to support their claims. The death of PFC Lavena Johnson is a prime example.
Before suicide statistics are set in stone, let's subtract the disputed cases, at least temporarily.
While we are at it, let's also subtract the number of suicides that may have been chemically induced by the use of anti-psychotic drugs and the use of anti-malarial medications such as Lariam or mefloquine -- which, by the way, was banned by the Army; but according to Dr. Remington Nevin, an Army epidemiologist, mefloquine is still being prescribed to soldiers despite the Army's decision to stop or "de-emphasize" its usage in February 2009. This was due to its serious links to mental health disorders. If this is what prompts a suicide, no amount of talk therapy and removal of stigma will prevent it.
Let's also subtract the number of suicides caused by Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, because this is also beyond a soldier's physical and mental control without proper treatment.
Unfortunately, no actual numbers exist for these subtractions. Sadly, that data is not being gathered by anyone. But it is vital that this data start being collected so that the real causes of military "suicide" can properly be dealt with. This could prove problematic because doing so would mean our military leaders will have to acknowledge serious errors in their investigations.
Lastly, war trauma in relationship to a PTSD diagnosis does not factor in rape, fear of rape, having to deal with ethical issues in the ranks such as criminal gang activity, sexism, racism and pre-existing mental health disorders. Our honorable soldiers are dealing with all of this even as their leadership publicly denies its existence as a major problem, thus leading to further isolation of our troops.
Whether the government is ready or not there is a growing movement among soldiers, physicians, scientists and media to bring forth awareness that our troops are dealing with more than the depression and anxiety brought on by war and multiple deployments. Until all of their problems are honestly acknowledged and factored in to the planning of suicide prevention programs, the current response is not going put a dent in the numbers.
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