Army Suicides Hit All-Time High

A soldier in combat fatigues sitting on the ground

By John M Grohol PsyD

For the month of June, the U.S. Department of Defense reported late last week that the number of soldiers who took their own lives — those who committed suicide — was an astonishing 32 individuals, 21 of whom were on active duty (but only one-third of those on active duty were serving in either Iraq or Afghanistan).

This corresponds to the ongoing record-setting of the number of suicides in the past year — 245 who died in 2009 and the 145 who have committed suicide already in 2010. At the rate of suicides so far this year, 2010 will exceed 2009 in suicides.

Who does the Army blame for this rise in suicides? Why, the people who commit suicide, of course, and the very culture they work to instill from Day One in boot camp.

Tim Embree of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America testified Wednesday before the House Veterans Affairs Committee that many soldiers fear seeking help.

“The heavy stigma associated with mental health care stops many service members and veterans from seeking treatment,” he said. “More than half of soldiers and Marines in Iraq who tested positive for a psychological injury reported concerns that they will be seen as weak by their fellow service members.”

Okay, sure. But we’ve dealt with the stigma of mental health issues now for decades in the civilian sector. How about we take the best programs available and all the knowledge gained from combating stigma of depression and mental health issues in civilians, and apply that same knowledge and science to helping wounded soldiers?

Because, today, it just doesn’t seem like the Army “gets it.” They put soldiers in a group therapy setting on their way back home from combat, and expect soldiers to just open up about their feelings in front of other soldiers. This would be hard enough to do for a bunch of civilians — it’s ludicrous to expect this sort of intervention to work in the military.

Soldiers need privacy and one-on-one time to help them acknowledge and better understand their mental health issues. Yes, the long-term goal is you need to change the environment and reduce the stigma in each component of the armed services. But since that’s going to take years — if not decades — to achieve, we need to work on short-term solutions to helping soldiers right here, right now.

You don’t do that in a group therapy setting on their way home. And you don’t do it by blaming the soldiers themselves for not seeking out treatment because of the stigma. You do it by committing more resources to helping soldiers today (not 2 years from now), and tailoring treatment interventions — including how you first approach them about these issues — and programs to their specific needs.

Why not use the Internet for e-therapy? It’s private and most soldiers are already comfortable using the Internet for other things. It might just be a way to reach them easily and affordably today, anywhere they happen to be deployed.

Read the full article: Army suicides hit record number in June

Dr. John Grohol is the CEO and founder of Psych Central. He has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues, and the intersection of technology and psychology since 1992.


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