The Best Defense

Soldiers' suicides: Some counterintuive conclusions from a former Army clinician

Retired Army Col. Elspeth Ritchie has a good overview of Army suicides in Cerebrum, an online neuroscience magazine.

Among the things I didn't know:

--Researchers tend to believe that suicides are under-reported in the Army Reserve. (Is life always worse in the Reserves?)

--It isn't the soldiers with major injuries who kill themselves. "Perhaps counterintuitively, suicides among those who have major injuries are rare; more often a minor injury or backache contributes to depressive symptoms, a belief that one cannot 'be the soldier I used to be,' and irritability."

--The decision to commit suicide may be more a matter of what a unit has been doing than what an individual soldier has experienced. "Drawing my conclusions from ASER data and many other sources, I will argue that it is the unit's deployment history, rather than the individual's deployment history, that contributes the most to suicide risk."

--Access to weapons is a problem -- but the Army doesn't like to talk about that. "After reviewing hundreds of suicide cases, I am convinced that the easy availability of weapons is a major part of the problem. According to the Army's database, about 70 percent of Army suicides are committed with a firearm. In the theater of war, guns are normally the government-issued weapon. Stateside, a gun is usually the privately owned weapon. The gun in the nightstand is too easy to pull out and use when a person is angry or humiliated or fighting with a spouse. Yet discussion of access to weapons is the third rail in the military -- it is not often brought up in formal mitigation strategies. The Army Task Force did not address access to weapons at all. The DoD Task Force does mention means restriction. "

--As readers of this blog know, dogs help. "Wounded soldiers find that the presence of their service animal decreases their PTSD symptoms and their feelings of anger and fear. Veterans who would not leave the house will bond with their dogs, walk them, and regain structure in their lives."

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