PTSD and Suicide in Veterans of Combat Situations: Military and First Responders
by Guest Author: Barbara M. Maxwell, Ph.D.
Much has been written about the relationship between PTSD and the risk of suicide and/or its completion. As recently as April 2017, the Rand Corporation released a comprehensive study. A recent psychiatric Journal released a study. Nothing really new or startling popped out at me. Is that reason to lose faith and give up? We as a people, as the human race, have all the survival skills necessary or we wouldn’t be here right now. The intense fear experienced in going “outside the wire” when experienced on a repeated basis affects how soldiers feel. It does that because a very primal area of the brain, the limbic system, has been overstimulated over time. It is called fear. Fear of mutilation, fear of death, fear of failure, fear of not being able to perform one’s duty in a combat situation: fear. That fear causes how the brain processes information even in a non-combat environment, such as driving the family to the mall when all of a sudden there is a bag in the road.
We know that most people entering the military have a good reason for doing so. It is not always because they want to be patriotic and serve their country, although those feelings may develop during their tenure in the military– or not. Some people join the military to avoid jail time. Some join so they can have their college paid for by the military. Some join to escape abusive family situations. I feel obligated to point out that many women join to escape sexual abuse only to find it in an even less escapable environment: the military. So those of you who have the opportunity to show some respect for female soldiers, please do so. Those of you who have taken advantage of having power over female soldiers, go talk to the base psychologist and get your head on your shoulders where it should be. But I digress.
If someone enters the military from a dysfunctional environment for whatever reason, research done on literally thousands of soldiers returning from deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan has shown that those individuals are more likely to suffer not only from PTSD but also from alcohol and/or drug problems. Of course, it is not confined to those countries and it is not confined to recent years. Viet Nam, Korea, WWII, WWI, and on and on and on. The single most important thing to do is to talk to someone who will really listen. And keep talking. You didn’t give up in a life or death situation so don’t give up at home. A Note: Home does not mean the dysfuunctional family of origin. It does not mean talking to an estranged friend or relative, it means talking to a trusted friend or family member or a professional who is familiar with PTSD. Or it may mean dialing 911 or calling a suicide hotline. What it does mean is do not give up on yourrself. Your brain needs some reprogramming and that is work you can do. You CAN do it.