In any capacity, being a member of the armed services is associated with daily exposure to a great deal of stress and strain. Whether deployed in the field and engaged in active warfare or confined to a base and living through the realities of military life, the experience of being a soldier or other type of military asset can be a harrowing one. Recently, many stories have come to the surface surrounding the instances of PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, that is evident among army troops returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With alarmingly high rates of this often debilitating mental health concern along with increased rates of suicide, the military and Department of Defense have been focusing their attention, as well as their funding, on addressing better measures to help screen for signs of mental health difficulties among soldiers, and to intervene as necessary to prevent not only a loss of quality of life, but of potentially dangerous incidents as well. Unfortunately, new measures towards this end have not come fast enough for a group of army personnel working out of Fort Hood, in Texas.
Over the past day, breaking news has painted a story rich in tragedy and disappointment; apparently following the reception of news that he was to be deployed to Iraq, Major Nidal Malik Hasan went on a shooting rampage at the Soldier Readiness Center at the Fort Hood army base in Texas yesterday. Eye witness reports detail a shooting that had little to no warning for those who were killed and wounded. Apparently entering the building without incident, Hasan began shooting those inside the complex, many of whom were engaged in medical preparation activities. Though reports of the victims’ conditions are still developing, it is believed that eleven people were killed in the attack and an additional thirty one were wounded. Initial reports of the massacre, one of the worst to hit a military target in the United States in years, suspected that Hasan was not a lone gunman, and that one or two other military personnel were involved in the shooting. After preliminary investigations, however, it appears that Hasan was indeed operating alone. He has been reported as being in stable condition despite sustaining multiple gunshot wounds.
The motives for the shooting have been speculated as details of the attack are developed. In an interview with a major media outlet, one of Hasan’s cousins reported detailed the fact that Hasan was upset about having been chosen to deploy to Iraq, and that he has been a lifelong adherent of Islam, harboring negative thoughts and feelings about America’s involvement in the wars in the Middle East. Though investigations have not been completed, the FBI has reported that it has been attempting to verify whether certain comments regarding suicide bombers posted online were in fact made by Hasan. The comments suggest that suicide bombers, rather than taking part in the act of suicide forbidden by the Islamic religion, are performing a heroic deed in assistance to their fellow combatants. Though these comments are alarming if truly made by the shooting suspect, there is an even greater concern about the discovery of a military-administrated evaluation test, which suggested that Hasan was in a poor condition.
Though these aspects of Hasan’s personality and life within the military would seem to have been able to clue superiors into the realization of imminent danger, Hasan’s status as a Major and as a psychiatrist have perplexed many. Typically, it is believed that those of a higher rank, and that those in the caring and medical professions–especially those that work with mental health–are less prone to outbursts of violent or uncontrolled behavior. Nevertheless, some in the medical and mental health professions are not especially surprised at the connections between the stress of army life, client counseling, and the tragedy of yesterday’s incident at Fort Hood. Under an excessive amount of pressure–-and personal desire–to help people, mental health professionals are often faced with complex and challenging situations that can have a negative impact on personal health and well-being. Left unchecked, this issue can quickly become detrimental to the course of daily life, and may even lead to behavioral issues and the creation of dangerous situations for the professionals themselves, as well as those around them.
Hasan’s particular case may serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of seeking treatment from skilled mental health professionals when one is already working within the field. Though many people, whether working as psychiatrists or in a different capacity, may feel as though their qualifications and studying is enough to provide them with the tools needed to overcome the full spectrum of mental health concerns, it is vitally important to consult with peers and other experienced mental health professionals to attain support. Many popular modern movements in the world of mental health support the push for therapy for therapists, with some going to far as to suggest that relevant measures be introduced into state and local legislation. While some professionals may shrug off such suggestions as superfluous, the events at Fort Hood strongly suggest that such legislation is vital not only for professionals themselves, but for their clients and colleagues, as well.
As the victims of Fort Hood and their families, along with concerned onlookers throughout the nation and around the world, begin the process of healing, questions of how this event could have occurred are likely to come to the fore. Through understanding the need for professional help for professionals, and creating better measures to help army personnel overcome the difficulties of military life, we may be able to treat the causes of this incident with respect, and more importantly, to ensure that they do not occur again. Though mourning is demanded in the wake of such an event, attention to good therapy will help create a brighter future.
© Copyright 2009 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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