The basis for this blog came from an Associated Press article that appeared this morning on my Yahoo News internet webpage.
Suicides are surging among America’s troops, averaging nearly one a day this year — the fastest pace in the nation’s decade of war.
The 154 suicides for active-duty troops in the first 155 days of the year far outdistance
the U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan — about 50 percent more — according to Pentagon statistics obtained by The Associated Press.
The numbers are rising among the 1.4 million active-duty military personnel despite years of effort to encourage troops to seek help with mental health problems. Many in the military believe that going for help is seen as a sign of weakness and thus a potential threat to advancement.
Kim Ruocco, widow of Marine Maj. John Ruocco, a helicopter pilot who hanged himself in 2005 between Iraq deployments, said he was unable to bring himself to go for help.
“He was so afraid of how people would view him once he went for help,” she said in an interview at her home in suburban Boston. “He thought that people would think he was weak, that people would think he was just trying to get out of redeploying or trying to get out of service, or that he just couldn’t hack it – when, in reality, he was sick. He had suffered injury in combat and he had also suffered from depression and let it go untreated for years. And because of that, he’s dead today.”
The renewed surge in suicides has caught the attention of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Last month he sent an internal memo to the Pentagon’s top civilian and military leaders in which he called suicide “one of the most complex and urgent problems” facing the Defense Department, according to a copy provided to the AP.
Panetta touched on one of the most sensitive aspects of the problem: the stigma associated seeking help for mental distress. This is particularly acute in the military.
“We must continue to fight to eliminate the stigma from those with post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues,” Panetta wrote, adding that commanders “cannot tolerate any actions that belittle, haze, humiliate or ostracize any individual, especially those who require or are responsibly seeking professional services.”
There is still a long way to go in educating those who are depressed that their condition is not a sign of weakness. I coach people who are depressed that finally see they need help, but I am constantly amazed at those I know who are depressed that don’t want to talk about it. They feel ashamed and stoic that it’s just something they have to go through.
The psalms of King David, a mighty warrior and a man after God’s own heart – and one who was deeply depressed at various points in his life – was not ashamed to call out for help. Neither should anyone reading this blog. We’ll look more into the depression of David in next week’s postings.