As the war in Afghanistan comes to a close, the US is hoping to bring its troops back from the troubled region. However, concerns grow with each passing day over the mental health of the servicemen and retired veterans.
According to statistics released by the US Department of Defense, there has been an almost 18 percent decrease in suicide rates in the US military last year, reports AFP.
This is a mild improvement compared to 2012, when 319 active duty personnel and 203 reserve personnel committed suicide. Furthermore, a total of 841 members attempted suicide on one or more occasions in the same year.
Although there has been an overall improvement in the suicide rates, there has been a five percent increase among those in the US Army National Guard and Reserves.
The psychological health of war veterans and servicemen is amongst the foremost issues faced by the American defense administration today. There is an established link between military deployments and psychological health concerns. The mental health risks include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression.
Mental Health Disorders
In 2012, mental disorders caused more hospitalizations of service members than any other illness or injury.
The number of military personnel suffering from mental disorders is heartbreaking. According to a Pentagon report, between 2001 and 2011, the rate of mental health diagnoses among active duty service members has increased approximately 65%.
Almost a million current and retired service members have been diagnosed with at least one mental disorder with over 49 percent of them being diagnosed with more than just one.
This indicates that the problem is more serious than it is thought to be.
What makes the issue of mental health of American soldiers even more pressing is the rate of suicide. In 2010, more American soldiers committed suicide than died in combat. This is astonishing to say the least.
The grim state of military suicides gives rise to many significant questions. At this point in time, are the terrorists the biggest threat to the lives of soldiers? Did the drawdown in Iraq ensure the safety of war veterans? Will the drawdown in Afghanistan guarantee their safety?
The effects of these mental disorders are long term, sometimes even lifelong. It is possible that the phenomenon of soldiers killing themselves will continue well beyond the end of the war.
What’s At Risk?
A lot is at stake here, apart from the lives of the suffering soldiers. Their torment is often shared by their spouses, families, and colleagues. Sometimes the mental state of the soldiers can eventually lead to the outbreak of violence. Classic examples of this are the 2009 and 2014 Fort Hood Shootings.
Both the incidents occurred on the same military base. The perpetrators of both the killings reportedly suffered from mental problems. Nidal Malik Hasan, the 2009 Fort Hood shooter was reportedly mentally disturbed while Ivan Lopez, the 2014 Fort Hood culprit, was also described as suffering from mental issues.
Such incidents show that the time for action is now. There is a need for significant steps on the part of both the US government and the community. As the US plans to pullout of Afghanistan in 2014, addressing the health issues of soldiers must take precedence.