Combating PTSD Stigma in the Military
According to the New York Times, for every soldier who has died on the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq, 25 will die by their own hand. This appalling suicide statistic should be more than enough to wake us up and start dealing head on with the epidemic of PTSD in the military.
Why Soldiers Have Trouble Disclosing PTSD Symptoms
It’s hard enough for anyone to admit to suffering from depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, but it is excruciatingly more difficult for soldiers as their very training teaches them to show no weakness. 6,500 American veterans die by suicide every year. That's more than have died in combat throughout both wars combined.
It doesn’t take a social scientist to figure out why these numbers are so far out of range of the general public. They have, possibly, the most difficult job in the world. They have to witness human suffering and tragedy on a daily basis and are encouraged to keep their emotions bottled up. Couple that with adequate access to emergency psychiatric care, and it’s a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, no one seems to be noticing.
How to Reduce PTSD Related Suicides Among Soldiers
If 25 times more U.S. military soldiers are dying from suicide than from combat, it should signal that it is time to remodel and rebuild a military infrastructure that decreases PTSD stigma and increases the availability of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Our military soldiers should be educated about PTSD starting with the first day someone signs up to serve their country.
A part of basic training should be seminars on mental health in combat situations. If soldiers are made aware that depression, anxiety, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder are all treatable conditions that are nothing to be ashamed us, they may be more apt to seek help instead of turning to suicide.
If veterans came home after serving their country and were given mandatory mental health counseling by a psychologist specialized in treating soldiers returning from combat, we would see less suicides.
If there was a public campaign on television and in newspapers about soldiers who have fought, and won, against post-traumatic stress, we would see less suicides.
If the spouses of men and women in combat were given some information about helping someone adjust after combat, as well as signs and symptoms of mental illnesses, we may see less suicides.
We Owe More Than We Can Ever Repay
As a society, we are short-changing these men and women, even after they have offered to make the ultimate sacrifice. We are asking them to fight and then to come back and pretend as if it didn’t affect them. To carry on as though seeing a child get blown up in a car bomb is a forgettable incident; or that everyone has to carry their best friends lifeless body out of a bunker or that it’s normal to fall asleep and hear gunshots and bombs even when none are around.
If we change the way we interact with military veterans so as to make it easier for them to talk about it, we will start tipping the balance. Of course, people all handle stress differently, so not every soldier is going to suffer from mental health issues after combat. But I would wager that it is nearly impossible for anyone on Earth to witness such tragedies and to not at least be slightly affected.
Normalizing Post Combat Psychological Adjustment
That is why I think mandatory appointments with a psychologist are crucial after returning from combat. There isn’t a person alive who wouldn’t be affected by the atrocities of war and once we start treating PTSD as an expected, but treatable, condition, we can start really repaying these soldiers back.
They offered their lives for us. We owe them the opportunity to get theirs back.
Curry, C. (2012, November 19). Combating PTSD Stigma in the Military, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2012/11/combating-post-traumatic-stigma
Author: Chris Curry
The book is dedicated to all those who have lost the battles after the war. The veteran on the cover fell to PTSD-induced suicide right before the book was published. The final story is of the suicide of a Navy Corpsman who served four tours back-to-back in Iraq and Afghanistan, told by his mother who spoke with him on the phone in a four hour stand off right before his death. From that conversation, we learn so much about this kind of suicide... what the milestones which bring them to that point, their fears, hallucinations, etc.
Love Your Veterans has The Triumph Program which helps veterans discover, write and share their own stories and is a powerful tool in peer-to-peer mentoring. There is also the "Families of Veteran Suicide" closed FB group which allows those who have suffered this loss to network with each other while joining together in the cause to prevent veteran suicide. There are many more resources and program, but these are just to name a few.
A campaign like this is only as effective as it is well-known. I would love the chance to tell you more about this solution to veteran suicide!!!