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In the six years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, suicides among active American troops and discharged veterans jumped significantly. In 2006, 102 military personnel committed suicide; in 2007 the toll increased to 115; and the Army reported 138 suicides for 2008 or approximately 20 in 100,000 personnel from the previous year. For 2009, suicides may have surpassed combat deaths.
“The Army said it was investigating 24 potential suicides committed by troops in January and another 18 committed in February, up from 11 suicides in February 2008. If those numbers hold true, it will confirm what many have recently started to fear: that, for the first time since the wars began, monthly US troop deaths by suicide will have outpaced deaths in combat, and for two months in a row” (The Phoenix).
Researchers believe the suicide increase may be the result of heavy doses of prescription drugs and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a psychological condition that occurs after witnessing or experiencing traumatizing events.
The article continues, “Untold numbers of traumatized active-duty US troops…are taking prescription drugs with little or no medical supervision. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), mood enhancers, painkillers, and anti-anxiety medicines—Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, morphine, Valium, Ambien, Zoloft—are ill-advisedly helping unfit-for-duty soldiers keep it together on the battlefield…regardless of side effects” (ibid.).
Dr. Chad S. Peterson, former medical director of the San Francisco VA Medical Center’s PTSD clinical team, said, “If they’re just medicating away a feeling, the whole experience isn’t going to go away…They’re still going to have guilt and shame and anger and all of the feelings they had, but they’re just going to be numb to those feelings” (ibid.).
Suicide awareness and prevention training is now mandatory for all military personnel. Minnesota Public Radio reported, “All soldiers are required to ask others in their unit how they’re doing and it’s their responsibility to alert leaders when they think something is wrong with a fellow soldier.”