Military suicides have been increasing in recent years, which has prompted the U.S. Army to re-assess the effectiveness of its mental health programs in understanding the support soldiers need, says a recent article published by NPR. With increased awareness of returning soldiers’ struggles with PTSD, one might think that more combat time and more time away from family makes soldiers increasingly vulnerable to mental health issues. But the Army has discovered that PTSD and suicide have different profiles within its ranks. Among Army suicides, 79 percent occur during a soldier’s first three years in the military, regardless of deployment.
Times of transition are most likely to trigger suicidal thoughts and actions, says the Army. This includes deploying overseas, coming home, leaving the Army or a specific unit, and joining the army in the first place. The initial transition to military life from civilian life can be overwhelming, which has prompted the Army to start its suicide prevention efforts on a recruit’s very first day. NPR reports that when new recruits arrive at their Army processing center, even before basic training begins, their arrival materials include a quick-tip suicide prevention card. An early component of their training is also a 100-question Global Assessment Tool, which helps the Army understand how soldiers deal with stress.
Two elements of this story stand out as particularly relevant and for the general population, and for therapists and counselors in particular. First, times of transition are particularly difficult. Moving to college, the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage: these are complex and often overwhelming transitional experiences that certainly warrant the support of a therapist or counselor, in addition to family and social support. We should also keep this in mind, and check on the well-being of loved ones who are going through transition. Second, the Army’s prevention efforts. Mentioning the possibility of suicide on recruits’ first day may be somewhat disconcerting to them, but it gets the topic out in the open from day one. Addressing suicide and what to do about depressive or suicidal thoughts before they arise can better equip both teens and adults for responding to their own struggles or the struggles of those around them.
© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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