SUICIDE AND ACTIVE DUTY MILITARY

Mental Health/Suicide
by – Sheri de Grom

Suicide by active duty military and reservists is at a record high, about one a day.

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The numbers of active duty soldiers who’ve committed suicide are fifty-percent higher than the number of troops killed in Afghanistan in combat.

An estimated fifty-percent of the military that commit suicide never served in combat nor were they ever deployed to foreign soil.

Suicide rates are rising despite a determined push by the Pentagon to connect troops to a proliferation of resources: crisis intervention, therapy for post-traumatic crisis intervention, and therapy for other types of trauma including sexual abuse.

I believe many reasons account for the escalating suicide rates among active duty military and much of it has to do with deteriorating leadership capabilities within the ranks. Soldiers once had a feeling of camaraderie, the feeling that someone always had their back.

I frequently hear, “No one gives a damn.” Soldiers of today are not joining the same armed forces they heard stories about from their fathers and their grandfathers.

A report by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention states that the stress on the active duty soldier will continue to rise – even with the pace of combat deployments declining. A primary reason for this stress is that the military is shrinking because of budget reductions.

Separation boards are thinning the ranks. Both officers and senior enlisted are being forced out. It’s not just the Army down-sizing but the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy. Most of these individuals have been in more than twelve years and they don’t stay around if they don’t plan to have a military career.

Additional stress is resulting from soldiers being forced to leave the military and their separation from a familiar lifestyle. Suddenly careers are destroyed and family plans are left in shambles.

In a perfect world the good guys get promoted and the bad guys get punished and cut. But that’s never how it works in a giant bureaucracy like the military.

Soldiers are being asked to accept a lifestyle that is foreign to them. Before contractors came along and took over government, including the military, an envelope of safety seemed to fall around anyone entering a military base.

Before contractors, it was understood that everyone on base was military, a family member or civil service employee. This security is gone. Base housing is now operated by contractors and the homes are being rented out to non-military.

The rental of base housing is a slap in the face to active duty military. I’ll address the magnitude of problems that arrived with non-military renters in a separate blog.

A study by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center found that the most frequent diagnosis of military personnel medically evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2012 was not physical battle wounds but “adjustment reaction.” Adjustment reaction causes: grief, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and other mental disorders.

Mental health services are pitched as a potential solution, with the underlying assumption that the soldier is looking for a solution. But often, the service members in the greatest need of mental help are the ones most resistant to it, thus the call to action goes unanswered. This is in fact the greatest hurdle the military faces in their battle against military suicide: countering the disciplined self-reliance we train our service members to embrace.

In our perfect world, I’d place a minimum of three credentialed and licensed mental health workers (familiar with the military environment) at each platoon to help understand the daily rhythms in a soldier’s professional and personal life; someone who can earn the trust of the service members and respond immediately when needed – not after a call for an appointment. Mental health resources must be integrated into the modern garrison lifestyle.

The primary reasons given for suicides in the active duty military and reservists’ ranks are the same as most Americans in the same age grouping. The leading causes have always been: relationship issues and problems with finances.

The act of suicide is different with each individual. There’s not an easy fix and there’s no set of rules guaranteed that will save an individual. How do we know which soldier

Suicide By Drug Overdose

Suicide By Drug Overdose

needs our attention?

Suicide is complex and the trajectory toward death is as individual as the person.

I thank each of you for reading with me as we explore the difficult subject of suicide. Your love and responses have reinforced again why it is that I do what I do.

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About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
Aside | This entry was posted in Bipolar Disorder, Fourth House, Mental Health, Psychiatric Care, Suicide and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

55 Responses to SUICIDE AND ACTIVE DUTY MILITARY

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  2. Reblogged this on So, I Read This Book Today and commented:
    So many things that we simply take for granted. And our military, and their pain, are a large part of that. Sheri has written a great article we should all pay attention to.

  3. Thank you, Sheri, for opening my eyes to the problems our military personnel face. I had always assumed their mental health issues were caused by PTSD and had no idea how demoralized and unsupported they were. It is truly a disgrace

    • Thank you for reading with me and commenting, Kitt. The days are gone when our soldiers had any type of stability in their lives. The same holds true for family members, both spouses and children. I have a few additional blogs I’m putting together regarding the military community and suicide but am discovering I have to space them out a little for my own mental health.
      I liked your blog regarding NAMI’s Peer to Peer Class. NAMI has some really good programs developed and in years past did a good job of training the trainers. I hope that tradition is continuing.

      • Looking forward to your future posts about the military. Take care of your own mental health first, of course.

        I am still in many ways an SF Bay Area progressive even as I live in conservative Orange County, CA. As such, I’m not a fan of war, but I do respect those who serve in the military and in law enforcement, for they risk their lives and sacrifice much to serve our country. We owe them much.

        Hopefully I will learn more about NAMI, for I applied to volunteer for them. In my psychodynamic graduate school education at the now defunct (and quite liberal) New College of California in San Francisco, the dean informed us that NAMI was a group of parents who refused to take responsibility for abusing their children and causing their mental illnesses. Of course, the truth is somewhere in between, since biological mental illness is genetic, so no doubt one’s family of origin carries a legacy biologically and in dysfuncitional coping mechanisms, such as alcoholism to self-medicate. The identified patient is rarely the only sick member of the family.

  4. That really is a shocking statistic Sheri. Once more you’re shining a light on an important issue that needs to be addressed. I continue to admire your commitment to mental health advocacy.

    • Andrea – Thanks for stopping by. I so appreciate your stopping by and commenting. I agree with you that the number of deaths by suicide are shocking and billions of dollars have been allocated towards this issue and somehow it seems to be sucked into think tanks in DC and soldiers never see the benefits. Our Veterans are having a tougher time with mental health issues. I’ll be blogging on the subject.
      I positively adored your post about your dog. They bring such joy into our lives. I also read the current blog you posted and as always they are spectacular but something told me my heart needed comforting and off to visit you dog companion post I went. Thanks for providing a safe place for a weary soul to go and find comfort. Sheri

  5. jbw0123 says:

    You tackled a lot here, with suicide and war and private contractors. The idea of saving money by hiring private companies to do much of the the work in the military has not worked out very well. I hadn’t thought much about how management by private contractors might affect morale, but it makes sense that soldiers would suffer from the same problems that other people do with landlords who care first and foremost about the bottom-line. It is encouraging that Michele Obama and others have been working hard to bring these problems to the public attention. I’ve been watching the series about the Roosevelt, and was appalled by the conditions of the veteran soldiers with PTSD in mental hospitals after World War I. We’ve made a bit of progress. Still, there are some wounds that we just don’t know how to heal. It is frustrating. Keep sounding the alarm.

    • Julia – I always look forward to your perspective on these issues. Our military is in a sad situation and moral is at an all time high. I can’t blame the soldier and their families. Enlisted ranks (E-1 through E-6) are faced with using community food banks as they don’t make enough to feed their families. This group also meets the qualifications for food stamps. There’s something really sad about all of this. We’ve never had to rotate soldiers so quickly for deployment and this tears families apart, especially young families.
      The housing situation being run by a contractor has so many negatives. I’ll get into that further on down the line. However, I will say, about 90% of us now totally distrust contractors and I take on a piece of contract work from time to time!

  6. Oh Sheri,
    I seethe, when I think of how little our government values the lives, of those who serve. Thank you for taking the time to explain how dire the situation really is. Sending thoughts and prayers for healing to both you and your husband. Hope you both are better soon!

    • Jodi – I’ve decided banking my head against the wall won’t help the military situation any time so. I’ve been associated with the Department of Defense in one matter or another for 40 years and things are rapidly declining. My heart hurts for these men and women entering all services to keep our country safe and now they are being treated like disposable waste paper.
      Thank you for the healing prayers to both Tom and I. I’m in a wait and hold pattern before I enter an extensive physical therapy program (ouch) and we’re still having problems with Tom’s staph infection. We saw his doc yesterday and he prescribed additional antibiotics and of course they are tearing Tom’s stomach up and seem to be bothering his cognitive function as well. Thank you for asking, Jodi.

  7. inesephoto says:

    Sheri, sorry to hear that Tom is back in the hospital, but probably it is better for him to stay there with this serious infection, at least until his blood tests improve.

    Thank you for writing and speaking for the veterans. Situation in military service reflects situation in the whole society, so there is no surprise that mental health of service men is neglected. A shame.

    In Ireland (population 4.5 MM) there are about 500 death by suicide every year.

    • Inese – Thank you so much for stopping in to read with me and taking the time to comment. I’m in complete agreement with you about suicide being a growing problem of society.

    • Good morning, Inese. I finally have a morning when I can honestly say good morning. How do the hours get away from us and I don’t make it to all the blogs I want to keep track of on a regular basis.
      The suicide group I mentioned is this post is for active duty military members. I’ll have a follow up blog in a couple of weeks concerning our Veterans. It really is an appalling statistic all the way around.

      • inesephoto says:

        Good morning Sheri. Thank you for replying. I am glad your morning is good, and hopefully the day is good too.

        Young people join the military service for many different reasons. Many of the reasons indicate trouble…

        I look forward to reading your new blog. It seems that the Veterans everywhere in the world are facing the same challenges.

  8. willowdot21 says:

    I fear that I have to say much of this post is true of the British army too. Well written post Sheri on such a difficult subject. Xx

  9. pnissila says:

    Sheri,

    Once again, a VERY NEEDED article. And for me, timely for another reason.

    Next week, fall term starts at our local community college. I always have at least one and sometimes several Veterans in my classes. Most will tell me this via a confidential “student information form” where one of the options is for them to disclose any information that they think I may need to know about them to help me serve them better in the classroom. Most of these students are on or in treatment for some form of PTSD and/or other mental/emotional issues due to their service. Some have experienced several deployments overseas. A few have disclosed treatment for suicidality.

    I try to be sensitive to triggering situations and to respect wishes with regard to their “learning styles,” as they have just come from very structured “workplaces,” as it were, in the military. For example, it’s the “trend” to organize lessons for groups (Cooperative Learning), but I now leave this the option of the students.Vets tell me this doesn’t work well for them.

    Another thing I have learned is that they may prefer to sit in the safest place for them in the classroom–the back, or by the door. I have also learned that veterans having, again, come from a very structured “workplace,” respond best to well-organized and clear instructions. There are, of course, a lot of teachers who have a much more relaxed presentation, shall we say. Some, as in any educational institution, are just disorganized.

    Within the last few years, there is another situation that I try to be sensitive to: we are receiving a lot of students from the Middle East. Fine students, yet, you can see where I might be sensitive to another sort of trigger potential… for this, I pray a lot behind the scenes and access the perspectives available to instructors at my college via our Veteran’s resources department.

    One of my colleagues is also retired military and last year for the first time, he conducted a round table with vets as a part of our campus-wide in-service. These students talked about what helps them and what hinders them in the classroom, and talked about other specific issues we need to know to help them learn and to deal with the environment and their adjustment to college life.

    These are small things, to be sure, but the world, as you noted so well, is now much more challenging for our Veterans, and in the capacities that we serve them, we need to be aware of this.

    Keep letting us know the realities and how we can help.

    I would also like to add, should others be interested in this, the need for people to PRAY for our educational institutions; for students, instructors, administration, and support staff. I think too often there is “black and white thinking” about public educational institutions (all bad) and people do not realize that this is a “mission field,” of sorts, too. WE COVET YOUR PRAYER COVER!! I recently wrote a brief commentary about this need and if I may link it, here it is: http://pnissila.wordpress.com/2014/09/12/dear-christians-welcome-back-to-public-school-some-encouragement-from-a-believer-working-in-this-sometimes-overlooked-ministry-arena/

    And I just found out about an organization called momsinprayer.org where people can see if there is a prayer group already organized for their school and, if not, they can set one up. In our state, there are many; however, only for K-12 institutions. Our colleges and universities need them, too!

    Thanks for letting me add this. Sorry for the length.

    • Priscilla, Please never apologize for the length of a response or including a link. I often write what the government refers to as ‘White Papers’ and this keeps me keen on what’s happening right now with our veterans as well as other subjects in government. You can probably tell my favorite subjects have to do with the military and health care. When bloggers provide me information, such as what you just did, I’m able to broaden my research and provide the powers that be additional information on where they might improve what is being offered and with an additional boost from a committee recommendation would allow individuals such as yourself to increase percentages of success.
      It sounds as though you are doing all the right things for your veteran students. I have PTSD and although I’ve worked hard to overcome many of my triggers, there’s still some situations I will not go into. It took me well over 20 yrs before I could use a seat belt. I didn’t care what the law was. I never sat with my back to the door and still have some problems with that in certain situations. I refuse to use underground parking and the list goes on and on. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being sensitive to your students needs. You are saving lives due to your awareness and your kindness.
      I’ll be posting a blog on Veterans and Suicide in a couple weeks. It will be more specific and will address the older veteran as well as the newly returning veteran.

  10. Those who we should most help are being shortchanged. All wrong. I don’t like the stories on this side of the border either. Everything and everyone cut back while the fat cats give themselves another raise and a fat pension.

  11. gpcox says:

    Your expertise in the field of Dept. of Defense medical affairs is quite apparent in your article and hopefully will bring the seriousness of the situation to better light. You always do a terrific job, Sheri.
    As always – give my best to Tom. Did you get to make your visit to the vets? I’ve been waiting to hear about it – only when you get a chance of course.

    • G.P.: Hello there and how are you. Thank you for your kind words. I had a tough time putting this blog together. The words and numbers didn’t want to flow. I fought them day after day and finally pushed post and said ‘away you go.’ If I had so much trouble with this one, I may never get the one about Veteran’s and suicide finished. You, I’m sure, are already aware that we lose one Veteran every 65 minutes in the United States. How we face the world knowing 154 veterans a week die by suicide. Does that make us the greatest power on earth? I don’t think so. If we are going to give aid to a humanitarian cause, how about starting with our veterans here at home and provide them a will to live. I will do the ‘Veterans and Suicide’ blog but I may need a lighter blog in between with everything else that’s going on in my world. I so appreciate you showing up, reading and leaving a comment. Thank you. Sheri

      • gpcox says:

        Ever since Obama made the rest of world more important in his agenda than Americans, I’m afraid our ideas of caring for our own is either obsolete or politically incorrect or some such thing. The nonchalant way he treats our troops and citizens (to me) is appalling.

        • Amen. How do you feel about the military being sent to fight Ebola and the military members being assigned vs volunteering. In my opinion, Obama has stepped so far out of bounds, there’s reason to remove him from office.
          Just think, even before 3,000 military members were sent to West Africa, clinicians in the developed world have had to be aware of the possibility that travelers from the affected countries – mainly Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – might import Ebola.
          The medical community worries about travelers. Who will worry about the 3,000 military members when it’s time for them to return to the states?

  12. Ooops … I found my response in the wrong place. Well …here it is anyway 🙂

    Sheri, I am sure that with the over fifty comments that anything I could say has been said. So ditto to all of us who love and support you and Tom.

    “To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream”
    “How did I know that someday—at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere—the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?”

    And for Sylvia it did finally descend and the world lost a literary genius. What makes what happened to Sylvia Plath different from the struggles you and Tom face together is that you have each other. Or that he has you. That your love and determination to stand by him through this nightmare makes all the difference. Stand strong together and know that there are hundreds of us out here who care about and share your struggles 🙂

  13. Gallivanta says:

    It’s such a tough issue, and not only in military life. 500 New Zealanders die by suicide every year, which is a huge number by any standard but especially tragic for such a small country as we are.

    • Gallivanta – You are so right. Suicide numbers are on the rise on every demographic level and in every country. It has reached demographic proportions and is the leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer in the US. The general population in the US has a suicide every 13 minutes and there’s so much we don’t know and likely never will. Each death is a puzzle with a thousand missing pieces.
      I love your new avitar. I always smile each time I see it.

      • Gallivanta says:

        Absolutely so many pieces missing! So pleased you love my new avatar. Another follower suggested I use the sketch that Lucy gave me as my new avatar. Turned out to be a wonderful suggestion. I love it.

  14. Marie Abanga says:

    Sherri, you make an ideal suggestion about posting mental health pros in platoons and not dem having to react to calls etc; this is ideal only right? I mean, isn’t it easier for the system to to be reactive instead of proactive? They sure wanna see the ‘trauma’ before qualifying u as suffering from ptsd right? Well, maybe am still not making much sense, bye for now 🙂

    • Marie, I’ve been associated with Department of Defense in one way or another for 40 plus years. The stigma for seeking mental health care can still (and does) destroy careers.
      My thought: with intervention at the platoon level, trauma turning into crisis would be lessened.
      I’m doubtful that mental health care providers will ever be anyplace than in a hospital.

  15. Leiah, I’ve reposted the entire blog. Let’s see if it goes through this time. Interesting, WordPress told me the post was active and it wasn’t when I double checked after your message. Thanks so much for letting me know. Sheri

  16. Searching for this article, but comes up 404 – did you take it down? It is a really good article!

    Leiah

    Leiah Cooper So, I Read This Book Today http://www.soireadthisbooktoday.com soireadthisbooktoday@centurylink.net Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. – His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama

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