This topic has become more real for my family. My first cousin’s son-in-law committed suicide this past weekend. He had had difficulty adjusting since his return from Iraq, but the family was still caught off-guard. If you can make it any worse, he chose his wife’s birthday to take his life. Fortunately, neither she nor their toddler son was home at the time.
The issue of soldier suicide concerns many. Maj. Gen. William D. Wofford, Arkansas' National Guard Adjutant General, recently made a public plea for help asking family members, friends and employers of the state's 10,000 Guardsmen to watch for personality changes or signs of stress overwhelming his soldiers and airmen. There has been four suicides in Arkansas Guardsmen since January.
As Dr Chad Morrow points out the suicide risk for active duty males is now higher than for the general population.
This is particularly noteworthy considering that the military entrance process screens out serious mental illness prior to entry onto active duty, and that the rate of suicide in military males has historically been significantly lower than comparable civilian populations.
Morrow goes on to touch on “the three-way interaction between burdensomeness, belongingness, and acquired capability.” He suggests that “belongingness is less robustly related to suicidal desire than burdensomeness.”
I don’t know if my young cousin-in-law’s suicide could have been prevented. He came back from Iraq physically intact. I’m not sure how much help he sought or took advantage of. I do know he has left loved ones who now have to face their grief, the loss of his presence, and many questions.
Here are some of my random thoughts on suicide prevention in our troops:
They need to feel connected. We know that text messages have been helpful in getting patients to do better with their chronic diseases or take their meds. Is there anyway to use text messages to help them feel more connected?
Could the military and/or guard set up a “facebook” system for the troops where they could interact with each other? Virtual “group sessions” that would overcome distance (living too far from a VA Clinic), like telemedicine.
Solders, like physicians, have a higher completion rate on suicides than the general public. You can’t take away the training needed to do our jobs. The focus has to be on connecting, feeling useful/needed/capable.
Each individual has to reach out and grab the lifeline that is thrown his way.
Ark. National Guard asks for help as suicides rise; AR State Wire
By Jon Gambrell, Published: Sep 18, 2009
Suicide in active duty military personnel by Chad Morrow, Psy.D; Psychotherapy Brown Bag, September 1, 2009
Army Suicide Rates Hit Record High; Huffington Report by Pauline Jelinek and Kimberly Hefling; January 29, 2009
Fort Campbell hosts suicide run: Run for Resiliency at Destiny Park features 25 information booths By JAKE LOWARY; The Leaf-Chronicle, September 20, 2009