Thoughts On Military Suicide

I don’t normally do this.  I like to use this space for events and issues in my personal life, but this newspaper article really peeved me.  This article discussed a new program implemented by the Army to self-assess their mental state in an on-going effort to reduce suicides in the military.  In this program, soldiers are required to log into their AKO (email) accounts at least twice a year to take a 175 question survey.  The program will then give recommendations on where to get mental help if it seems like they need it.  It is not seen by anyone but the user and doesn’t impact promotions.

First off, I congratulate the Army for taking an increased interest in soldiers’ mental health.  It is a growing and important problem both during war and peace time and should be evaluated often.  Mental illness can be just as crippling as physical injuries and should be treated just as seriously.  My problem, however, is how the Army is choosing to implement such help. 

Making such a survey confidencial does erase some of the stigma associated with mental illness.  Soldiers can get suggestions on how to treat their illnesses without openly asking for it.  In the macho world of the Army where weakness is to be erradicated as efficiently as possible, I understand how even the possibility of a problem could be ignored way too long.  Self-assessment doesn’t work on mental illness however.  A mentally ill person cannot think correctly.  Depression warps how the brain makes decisions and rationalizes facts, but we’re relying on that same brain to honestly answer questions and then go out and find help.  What sense does that make?

The current method shows that mental illness is still viewed as a less vital malady than other sicknesses.  Why can’t physical fitness tests become a self-assessed measurement?  Because the results are too important to possibly be altered to be more favorable?  Why don’t we also implement self-diagnosing hospitals where a hundred question survey substitutes for solid medical care?  Soldiers are required to have an updated dental visit every year.  Why can’t similar requirements be instituted for mental health as well?  Twice a year every soldier has to go talk to some kind of therapist.  A good clinician should be able to say whether that person needs more evaluation or is not a suicide risk.  Better efforts should be made to catch people long before they become a suicide risk because once at that point, people need intensive help and not a survey.  A suicidal person already knows that they feel desperate and alone.  A survey confirming that does not force them to alter their behavior.  Talking to a trained professional doesn’t either, but it is more pro-active than 175 questions.

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