Before I start: Let me point-out that I am not a Mental Health Care Professional.
I had already decided not to write any more about Donald J. Trump since he seems to be self-destructing right before our eyes. But On October 3, before the Retired American Warriors, a group of military veterans, in Herndon, Virginia, he stated that military (and veterans) who develop mental health issues, are not “strong” and “can’t handle it”. He went on to suggest that others saw many of the same things, like the members of his audience; but they were strong, and could handle it. Now, that’s coming from a Draft-Dodger!
What Trump said certainly didn’t help those in the mental health care field, who have been trying to remove the stigma surrounding mental health issues for decades, and to move it out into the mainstream. Although similar issues abound in civilian life, the difficulty in encouraging diagnosis and treatment is more greater in the military, where strength and bravery are celebrated.
Several years ago, I ran across a blog by Steve Rose, Ph.D., a Canadian psychologist, who has done a great deal of research on PTSD among Canadian soldiers returning from Afghanistan. I have linked his most recent blog post, in which he specifically reports some of his findings regarding the average 22 man suicide rate in the U. S: https://steveroseblog.com/2016/08/27/who-are-the-22-veterans/.
I personally found the VA chart, which Steve included, that provides a demographic break-down, in ten-year age groupings, of suicide rates for both civilians and veterans, to be of great interest. The chart reflects the percentage of suicides in each of these groups, between 2009 and 2010, broken-down by the age demographics. Take a few moments to study the table from the report. Can you spot what is happening?
Notice the Main Finding, right below the chart: 69% of the veteran suicide rate is among those 50 years old, and older.
In his research, Steve began to look behind the numbers. The non-veteran suicide rate is higher than that of the veterans, up until the 50-59 year-old demographic, during which the veterans group shifts slightly higher. In the next age group, 60-to-69, the suicide rate for Civilians drops significantly, while that of Veterans remains relatively higher.
As I look at this chart, I can only make two unprofessional observations:
1. The suicide rate for civilians is significantly higher in the younger age groups, than that of the veterans. Then, they appear to criss-cross—with civilians veering lower and veterans remaining relatively higher in the older demographic.
2. The fairly-consistent, higher suicide rate among older veterans, at least to me, suggests that military service might have something to do with the different outcomes. I am assuming that the veterans’ statistic might be more skewed toward “lifers”, who retired within the past ten-to-fifteen years, after having served for 20-to-30.
As Professor Rose points-out, there are a number of factors, which come into play, regarding the suicide rate among veterans. I will leave the possible medical reasons for the professionals; but, let’s consider the various societal reasons that might be causing suicide among veterans. Research indicates that the rate is highest among white males, with a high school diploma.
There are some gender-related factors, such as the male focus on masculinity, competitiveness and accomplishment. Oftentimes, men tend to be more geared toward work, hobbies or other “instrumental” activities, whereas women—with that maternal instinct—are somewhat less competitive, have greater empathy, and are more societal in nature. Professor Rose points out that there can be a loneliness factor among men, whereas women tend to have more social relationships that provide some protection from depression.
A major problem for some military veterans is making the transition into civilian life. In the service, oftentimes your co-workers might be your neighbors, or people you see around the post or a small town, on a regular basis. That communal atmosphere can take-on greater significance in overseas assignments, and yet be even higher yet in combat units, where each member of the unit’s life depends upon the others.
As I consider what I have read on Steve Rose’s blog, as well as other things regarding communal and even tribal societies, with regard to returning veterans, I have the following points to make:
1. Having a support group—family, friends, co-workers—can help prevent depression.
2. Finding a job helps and, if necessary, use the GI Bill to gain job skills.
3. In the current All-Volunteer Military, roughly only one percent of Americans are either serving in the military, or has a family member that is. The makes the transition, from military to civilian life, that much more difficult.
4. I wonder if education beyond high school, possibly reflecting greater job skills, has any effect on the outcome?
NOTE: Ladies, I am not in any way suggesting that you cannot be intelligent, accomplished and focused!