Culture Of Silence

I have a govie job, so I have to attend the yearly trainings for everything under the sun.  One of those trainings is for suicide prevention, which I had to attend earlier this week.  Initially I was excited to go to the training.  Not only is it a paid break from work (whoo-hoo!), but I’m always excited to see any kind of initiative toward opening discussing depression and suicide.

Everyone’s heard of the increase in soldier suicide rates, and it’s all over the news how more money and resources are being allocated to help soldiers with mental illness.   A movement is starting that will hopefully encourage them to seek help and change the stigma associated with depression in the military.  I think it’s wonderful and long overdue, but I know it’s going to be an uphill battle.  I personally advocate for mandatory, regular screenings but that’s a whole different argument. 

The training was solely geared toward PTSD and soldiers, and in my opinion, it was done very badly.  The guest speaker, Sam Rhodes, was unprepared and inarticulate.  He sounded uneducated and spent more time trying to relate to the room full of soldiers than he did stressing a point.  More time was spent in his presentation on self-promotion, his book, and all the attention he’s getting from the national news than it was on how to reach soldiers suffering from depression.  As a person who claims to have been suicidal before, I expected more.  Say what you wanted to hear, Sam.  Tell soldiers exactly what you needed people to say to you but didn’t get because they didn’t know.  I don’t want to hear how you’re working with horses or see pictures of you at a book signing.  I’m glad you have the courage to speak out about your struggles, but don’t waste your audience.

It’s great that Sam Rhodes is advocating change.  Just because he’s one of the only former soldiers out there stumping for a change to how we recognize and treat military depression and suicide, doesn’t mean he’s the best answer though.  I think we can do better.   His book is (yes, I’ve read it) needs a thorough editing and proofreading.  The sloppiness degrades any argument he makes.  I agree that to end the stigma associated with PTSD leadership needs to be more accommodating to soldiers who need and want help, but come on.  If you’re going to be the spokesperson for the issue, act like you’re not working out of your basement even if you are.

I was slightly bummed with the training itself, and not just Sam Rhodes.  I know I’m at a military institution with a ton of returning soldiers very soon, but don’t forget about the rest of us.  That’s why I was so happy to see SpouseBuzz talking about mental illness for those of left on the home front the other day.  We suffer too.  Deployments and military life are stressful.  Anticipatory grief can be horrible to deal with on your own.  It’s ingrained in soldiers to be tough, to suck it up, and deal with the danger, fear, and worry in a solitary, stoic manner to get the job done.

Military spouses feel the same way.  Don’t complain to your soldier, he’s got enough on his plate.  Don’t show worry at home, the kids shouldn’t be burdened with it.  Civi friends don’t understand.  Families are too far away.  The military machine doesn’t care because you’re just the dependent of a social security number.  This life is emotionally abusive a lot of the time, and we have to be tough and deal to make it until the next challenge is in front of us.  Military spouses need just as much attention in the big push to confront military depression and suicide as their soldiers.

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