My gratitude to Nancy Kirsch and The Jewish Voice & Herald Voice for the comprehensive examination of suicide and mental health issues for military personnel and veterans, “Those in active duty face risks beyond the battlefield,” in the June 7 issue.
There’s even more to the story as I learned as a member of an Institute of Medicine committee that released a recent report on alcohol and drug problems in the armed forces (http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13441).
Battle stress and multiple deployments are not the only factors that account for the alarming rates of suicide and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Alcohol and drug problems, particularly binge drinking and prescription drug misuse, also increase the risk for suicide and PTSD and, regrettably, the troops aren’t getting the help they need.
First. too many of them don’t seek help because of the pervasive stigma of being labeled as suffering from mental illness or addiction. Second, active military personnel have few opportunities for confidential screening, diagnosis or counseling. The combination of stigma and lack of confidentiality blocks access to the early interventions that are key to suicide prevention and the treatment of mental illness.
David C. Lewis, M.D.
The writer, professor emeritus of community health and medicine, Alpert Medical School at Brown University, was a member of an Institute of Medicine committee addressing alcohol and drug problems in the military.