Saturday, April 26, 2014

military suicide down: yes, but

The most recent stats out of the Pentagon indicate that suicide among the active-duty military went down a significant percentage since last year (somewhere around 15%, depending on which numbers you use), but increased among reservists and the National Guard, so that now they outnumber active-duty suicides.  The Army, in particular, believes the measures it has instituted to counter suicidal tendencies have helped, and fingers crossed that that's true, but the kicker for me came toward the end of the AP article:

"According to Army data, more than half of the reservists who committed suicide in 2012 and 2013 had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Officials, however, have not been able to establish a strong link between military service on the warfront and suicide."

Ok, yes, we like "strong links" as evidence; they're more reliable than anecdotes, and there is that other substantial group who hadn't deployed before they killed themselves.  Also, I'm increasingly wary of confirmation bias -- the tendency to believe evidence that proves what you already believe.  But might  the premises behind the research make it hard to figure out what's really going on?  Can it really be that being trained to kill reflexively has no repercussions?  Or that being a part, even at a distance, of a mechanism that engages in such senseless, futile, soul-sucking belligerencies doesn't take a toll?

It has always seemed obvious to me that the best way to prevent suicide, PTSD and other psychic distress is not to send heavily-armed people into such untenable situations in the first place.  Ah, yes, but then we'd have to reckon with what we've been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan and now Africa and god knows where else in the first place -- and we don't seem to have any encouraging statistics for that.