Inside Opinion

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Tag: suicide


Military should update its strategy against substance abuse

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

The military might employ some of the world’s most up-to-date weapon systems, but it’s stuck in the past when it comes to preventing and treating substance abuse.

That’s the conclusion of a new Institute of Medicine report released this week. It says that abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs among service members and their families is a “public health crisis” and contributes to the record rate of suicide within the ranks. But the services are often dealing with that crisis in outmoded ways.

For instance, materials the U.S. Navy uses for counselor training haven’t been updated since 1984. The military is reluctant to use medication that can curb cravings and to employ other modern strategies for combating substance abuse. And its drug-testing – created in the years after the Vietnam War – focuses on drugs that aren’t the main problems today.
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Army must do more to combat the stigma of mental illness

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

As soldiers return from war zones and try to adjust to life on the home front, some are finding that they can’t cope. They survived combat, but face a threat potentially as dangerous in country: themselves.

In July, the Army reported it was investigating 32 possible suicides, more than in any previous month in the past two years. So far this year, at least 11 possible suicides have been investigated at Joint Base Lewis-McChord alone.

The Army is so concerned about how many soldiers are taking their own lives that it expanded last week’s National Suicide Prevention week into Suicide Prevention Month. It has taken a number of welcome steps to help address the problem of suicide in the ranks, including suicide-prevention education and training for first-line supervisors and junior officers to intervene early when they see problems developing.
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Refreshing military candor about suicide and war

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Whatever problems the U.S. Army may have, evasiveness isn’t among them. This is one straight-talking organization.

Its newly released study on the psychological health of its soldiers, “Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, and Suicide Prevention,” is brutally honest about a growing problem in the ranks.

The rate of suicide, drug dependence and high-risk behavior among soldiers has been pushing upward in recent years, the Army acknowledged.

The intuitive conclusion is that young men and women are snapping under the pressure of combat, but that appears to be only part of the problem – and probably the smaller part. The authors reported that only 21 percent of the soldiers who committed suicide had been deployed to combat zones more than once. The rest had been deployed only one time or not at all.

The Army pointed the finger right at itself. Some commanders – pressed to prepare their units for war – weren’t paying enough attention to their soldiers’ mental health. Standards had been lowered to meet recruiting goals. More recruits were entering the service with such baggage as drug abuse and criminal records. Fewer soldiers were being kicked out for misconduct.

Those are all command problems, though they appear largely driven by two wars that weren’t of the Army’s own making.
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Distress in the Army: A hidden enemy

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

President Obama’s decision on deploying more troops to Afghanistan has been complicated by an ugly reality: suicide.

In recent years, the Army has struggled with growing numbers of soldiers who’ve taken their own lives. The numbers spell out the problem starkly. In 2005, the Army’s suicide rate per 100,000 soldiers was 12.7. In 2006, it rose to 15.3. In 2007, 16.8. In 2008 it hit 20.2.

That 2008 figure crossed a disturbing threshold. It was the first time since the Vietnam War era that the suicide rate among soldiers exceeded the rate among their civilian counterparts.

This might not seem remarkable, given the often harsh conditions of military life. But prospective soldiers are screened – in recruitment and in training – for their capacity to cope with those conditions. Going into active duty, their mental health is much better, on average, than that of their civilian peers. Something is deeply amiss when the comparison goes upside down.

The obvious explanation is war. Combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan run as long as 15 months, and many soldiers don’t get enough down time between deployments. Combat leads to stress disorders and depression as reliably as rain leads to wetness.
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