Suicide Prevention is Failing Among Soldiers

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We trust the military to protect our lives, but it appears the military doesn’t trust their officials to help with suicide prevention. Top military officials said on Thursday that the efforts to try to prevent suicide are failing due to lack of trust.

Colonel John Bradley, chief of psychiatry at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington stated that poor training, a lack of coordination and an overstretched military are playing a role as to why suicide prevention is failing among soldiers.

Bradley said a team of experts have a new 76-point plan that they spent a year on. They interviewed troops who had attempted suicide, family members and others to help them with their suicide prevention plan. With this information, they will present a plan to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is due to report to Congress in 90 days.

"They tell us again and again that we are failing," Bradley told a symposium on military medicine sponsored by the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation.

Each branch of the services - the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines are trying to put together suicide prevention program since suicide is the second leading cause of death in the military.

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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."

According to the report, 1,100 servicemen and women committed suicide in 2005 to 2009, that is one suicide every day and a half. The Army's suicide rate doubled in that time. About 1.9 million U.S. service men and women have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We have done all the right things but despite all the things we have done, suicide rates have risen, particularly in the Marines and Army," said Colonel Charles Hoge of Walter Reed. "A large percentage of our servicemen, our veterans, do not come in to get help," he added.

"It is not just the perception that they will be treated differently or somehow that it will affect their career, but it is also distrust in the system and distrust that mental health professionals can help them," Hoge added.

"They don't trust us. They believe we speak with forked tongues," Bradley said. "Marines are young, they are confident, they are aggressive," said Lieutenant General Richard Zimmer of the U.S. Marine Corps. "They are the last ones to raise their hand and say they have a problem."

It appears that military personal 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.

Hoge said physical demands can also affect the mind. Troops often operate on just 3 or 4 hours a sleep a night for extended periods. "They often have pain, chronic pain," he said. "They have gone through all these events, including concussions. It is clear there are physical changes that happen."

More will be done to help establish a useful suicide prevention plan in the meantime; military officials understand that suicide prevention is failing among soldiers.

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