The media has become exceptionally good at saturation reporting on a specific incident. If that incident fits into the category of "disaster" the media machine kicks into overdrive and consumes our attention with the stories of individuals who are directly impacted by the devastation the particular disaster has wrought. In so doing, they personalize the epic catastrophe in a way that enables us to identify with the victim. The extreme version of this involves a fundraising campaign to help the victims, at which point the media machine kicks into overdrive to transform compassion into an event... but I digress.
A series of numbers leaped out of the media this week, both of which represent disasters -- yet neither of which was reported in a way that would elicit compassion or a fundraising campaign with or without a media event. In fact, these numbers are presented in a way that merits 60 seconds or less of our time. The first number tells us how many of our military personnel were killed while fighting the war in Afghanistan in 2012. That number is 295. Unlike the victims of Hurricane Sandy, there were no interviews with the victims who -- in this case -- were the surviving friends and family. Unlike the victims of Hurricane Sandy, there will be no fundraising benefit or Act of Congress to provide relief to the survivors. In fact, unlike Hurricane Sandy, there were no faces put to this number. It was mentioned in passing. It wasn't even the lead story.
However, there is a second number that is associated with military deaths. It is the number of military personnel that committed suicide in 2012. That number is 349. Again, no interviews with the friends and family who survived, no relief to the survivors and no faces put to this number. Worst of all, no insight into why so many more of our soldiers are fighting a war of internal aggression.
Webster's Dictionary defines "suicide" as "the act or an instance of taking one's own life voluntarily and intentionally especially by a person of years of discretion and of sound mind." In this instance, there is a bit more of a connection than the official story the military might want to admit. If we discuss the extent of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with military personnel, we present an image of personal weakness that is in stark contrast to the image of strength and courage that our military wants to project. By perpetuating that façade, however, we risk losing human beings to the overwhelming depression that often accompanies PTSD.
Because I am an ardent supporter of our troops, I am disgusted to learn that so many of our soldiers have opted for this variation on the theme of giving one's life for one's country. Clearly, there is a gap in the mental health care that we are providing for those who serve in the military -- whether on the front lines or on the home front. Yet, I am left to wonder why the media has remained silent on this topic rather than exposing the underlying root causes of this wide scale tragedy. Perhaps, through the individual stories of these fallen soldiers, we can learn how to reach out in time to prevent others who might opt for the same fatal solution. At the very least, these lost souls deserve as much focus in the media as the hurricane victims who only have to rebuild a house.