Everyone knows the General Patton story, the one about him visiting a hospital full of wounded soldiers and coming across a young man without visible wounds. When he is told the soldier has combat fatigue, General Patton slaps the kid and calls him a malingerer. As far as Patton was concerned, the problem was solved.
I’ve always thought that story exemplified the worst possible response to a soldier suffering from what we now call PTSD. Until today.
While sitting down to write this piece on military suicide, I was shocked into stillness. I literally sat with my fingers hovering over the keyboard as the story came out. It seems that Ted Turner has solved the problem of military suicide. According to Ted, all we have to do is wait until all the soldiers kill themselves, thereby breaking the cycle of war causing PTSD. With no more soldiers, there will be no one left to fight and therefore no more wars.
I’m relieved that Ted Turner has solved the problem, only I feel a little deflated as I have spent a lot of hours researching this. And I thought I may have come across a component that seems to have been overlooked, something that may both shed some light on the reason for many of these suicides as well as prevent others. But, now that Ted has come up with a final solution, my efforts, my ideas are all academic . Or they will be, once all the soldiers kill themselves.
The piece of the puzzle I found? I may as well write it down, as it may someday be of historical interest. Now, I’m not claiming that I would have solved the problem of military suicide, but it would have been interesting to see if my ideas were looked at, how much of an impact they would have made.
See, to me it was really quite simple. When our soldiers had difficulty sleeping, emotional outbursts or anxiety attacks, we just gave them drugs. While everyone else was completely focused on how drug therapy without concurrent talk therapy violated the standard of care, and I agree that was a major component, I think the drugs themselves were an overlooked contributor to the suicide rate.
Many if not all anti-depressant, anti-anxiety and sleep aids come with warnings that changes in mood or behavior, including suicidal ideation are a possibility. While the drug makers state the incidence of these side-effects is relatively rare, it is still significant enough that these warnings are required by the FDA. Add the threat of these side effects to the lack of concurrent psycho- or talk therapy to the nearly non-existent follow up care and monitoring to the military mindset of not asking for help to begin with and in my opinion, you have a recipe for disaster. Before Ted Turner solved the issue once and for all, I wondered why this confluence of factors wasn’t being examined.
Maybe some day someone will look into this and answer why this component wasn’t addressed, of course as a purely academic exercise since there won't be any more wars because there are no more soldiers. Then we can drink our Bubble Up and eat our Rainbow Stew.