Guest Column: Army suicide rate at highest in 26 years

Published 7:48 am Monday, August 27, 2007

By Staff
The Associated Press reported record number of U.S. soldiers killed themselves last year - 99 to be exact - the highest rate of suicide in the Army in 26 years of record keeping.
That's 99 families without a mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle. … those poor families - and I say that with not only sympathy but also empathy.
Nearly a third of those soldiers who committed suicide did so while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, with Iraq accounting for most of those – with 27 of the suicides coming from that conflict and three from Afghanistan.
And get this - according to the report, there were 948 attempted suicides. In instances of suicide, the burning question left for the survivors is &#8220why?”
The report cites failed personal relationships, legal and financial problems and the stress of their jobs as factors motivating the soldiers to commit suicide. I agree to a point, but I think it can be simplified to one word - hurt.
Our soldiers are hurt emotionally; some physically; some financially, but in the end, it's just plain hurt.
And I hate they feel their only recourse to stop the hurt is to take their own life.
The report said the 99 confirmed suicides among active duty soldiers compares with 87 in 2005 and is the highest number since the 102 reported in 1991, the year of the Persian Gulf War, when there were more soldiers on active duty.
In a flurry of studies in recent months, officials found a system that might have been adequate for a peacetime military has been overwhelmed by troops coming home.
Some troop surveys in Iraq have shown that 20 percent of Army soldiers have signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress, which can cause flashbacks of traumatic combat experiences and other severe reactions.
The good news is about 35 percent of soldiers are seeking some kind of mental health treatment a year after returning home under a program that screens returning troops for physical and mental health problems, officials said.
To combat the increasing problem, the Army has sent medical teams annually to the battlefront in Iraq to survey troops, health care providers and chaplains about health, morale and other issues. It reports it has revised training programs, bolstered suicide prevention, is adding some 25 percent more psychiatrists and other mental health professionals to its staff, and is in the midst of an extensive program to teach all soldiers how to recognize mental health problems in themselves and their comrades.
Those are measures that, had they been implemented sooner rather than later, might have saved lives.
In years past, it was believed there was stigma associated with getting therapy for mental problems which prompted many troops to avoid counseling because of the fear it would harm their career. Officials say they are working to erase that stigma.
Only time will tell, but it may be time that one man does not have.
All we can do now is hope our soldiers come home.
Pray for their continued safety.
And love them, no matter what.
Stephanie Nelson is a staff writer for the
Andalusia Star News.

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