Soldier Suicides

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On the blog for America, I have written about the sad fact that the number of suicides in the United States military exceeded the number of casualties due to warfare last year and the publication of a special issue of the American Psychologist examines this. The current issue of the American Psychologist is devoted to efforts by therapists to help build resiliency in soldiers.

“The last 25 years have witnessed a shift in the fields of psychology and mental health from a focus on the treatment of pathology after it arises to the development of positive skills and resources that contribute to resilience before serious problems develop. The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program in the U.S. Army represents one of the exciting applications of this approach to health and well-being. Comprehensive Soldier Fitness is understood as multidimensional, involving physical, emotional, social, familial, and spiritual domains. In this article, we examine the relevance of spiritual fitness to a comprehensive resilience program and then provide an overview of this new and innovative approach to human development in the Army. Before we turn to this discussion, however, it is important to consider the meanings of three key terms.”

A recent investigation in the New York Times examines the too-frequent concomitant prescription of multiple psychiatric and pain medications, and how this may be related to soldier suicides:

“In his last months alive, Senior Airman Anthony Mena rarely left home without a backpack filled with medications.

“He returned from his second deployment to Iraq complaining of back pain, insomnia, anxiety and nightmares. Doctors diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder and prescribed powerful cocktails of psychiatric drugs and narcotics.

“Yet his pain only deepened, as did his depression. “I have almost given up hope,” he told a doctor in 2008, medical records show. “I should have died in Iraq.”

“Airman Mena died instead in his Albuquerque apartment, on July 21, 2009, five months after leaving the Air Force on a medical discharge. A toxicologist found eight prescription medications in his blood, including three antidepressants, a sedative, a sleeping pill and two potent painkillers.

“Yet his death was no suicide, the medical examiner concluded. What killed Airman Mena was not an overdose of any one drug, but the interaction of many. He was 23.

“After a decade of treating thousands of wounded troops, the military’s medical system is awash in prescription drugs — and the results have sometimes been deadly.”

Although the problem of too many soldier suicides is extremely disheartening, it is definitely a topic for professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association to learn more about, and for physicians who prescribe medications to examine the practice more closely.

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