Soldiers Don’t Trust the Military to Help with Suicide

By John M Grohol PsyD

From the “Not really surprising” file… Returning soldiers and military veterans don’t really hold much hope or trust in the military to help them with their mental health needs — especially suicidal thoughts — according to a new report.
And why would they? The military is their employer. Would you feel comfortable talking to your bosses about all of your mental health issues? And not just mild stuff either, this is the serious depression, “I want to kill myself” stuff.
Most of us would be extremely uncomfortable with such a conversation. We would be even more uncomfortable with such a conversation knowing it is being recorded in our work record, and will follow us around for the rest of our professional career.
This is exactly what happens to soldiers and officers in the U.S. military.
Read on to see the preliminary results of the report…

In 2009, more soldiers committed suicide than during any previous period on record. This, despite being ordered earlier in 2009 not to commit suicide (yes, we are not making that up). 2010 is shaping up to top 2009 in terms of soldiers who commit suicide, with no end in sight to the upward trend.
Being in the military and having to deal with combat situations is extremely stressful. Suicide, a common symptom of severe depression, goes undiagnosed amongst soldiers largely because of stigma and repercussions that occur if you admit any sign of weakness to those in command (because, ultimately, it will reflect poorly on the commander’s record).
Colonel John Bradley is the chief of psychiatry at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington and is the lead author of the report:

Bradley said a team of experts spent a year interviewing troops who had attempted suicide, family members and others for the report and plan. […]
Each branch of the services — the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines — rushed to create a suicide prevention program, but there was no coordination. The report recommends that the defense secretary’s office take over coordination of suicide prevention efforts.
On-the-ground prevention training often failed because those running the sessions did not understand their importance, Bradley said.
“They are mocked and they are probably harmful,” he said.

Is it any wonder soldiers can’t trust the same military to help them? There are nearly always repercussions for seeking out mental health services treatment.

And troops who seek mental health services can lose their security clearances, their weapons and can be taken away from duties vital to their careers, Hoge and Bradley said.
When they return home from war, the skills that kept them alive under fire make them dysfunctional in civilian society, Hoge said.
“There are messages that the warrior gets when they back here that they are crazy,” he said.
In addition, all the services are overstretched, the report said. “The force is out of balance,” Bradley said.
“The force is fatigued. Anyone who doesn’t believe that has their eyes closed

Strong words indeed.
The real question is — Will anyone listen? Will anything ever change??
Read the preliminary recommendations: Recommendations of the Department of Defense Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide by Members of the Armed Forces
Read the news article: Military suicide prevention efforts fail: report

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