We equip our soldiers well for combat, but do not equip them well enough to deal with its trauma
Most people are scared of things they can’t control, of the unknown. Soldiers are no exception. Mental health in the military is a serious, but too often ignored issue in the United States. Serving in war can carry a heavy toll on the men and women who wear the uniform during and after combat. The overstretched nature of our military has left our soldiers strained, and from this strain we’ve seen a rise in those who take their own lives.
We arm our American soldiers with plenty of munitions, training, military technology and armor that is second to no other nation. But we are still working with a deficit, mentally. They are not all operating at their highest mental capacity. We offer our soldiers all the weapons and finance for combat, but offer little in terms of helping our soldiers cope with the trauma they face from combat. Our focus is wrong.
We amass arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, to protect us from what? What are we afraid of? We arm ourselves with guns and tanks disguised as security blankets and then swear we’re not afraid of anyone.
Mankind fears what it does not understand. A fear of the unknown has gripped our country for centuries. These fears have justified heinous wars in the past and present. Fear leads to stress and stress can lead to irrational action. While this fear is true in the politicians who send our troops into battle, it also has a direct impact on the mental health of our soldiers on and off the battlefield.
Soldiers have legitimate problems correcting the damage that they’re called upon to inflict. When some are overtaken by stress and fear they are prone to acting out of character and committing terrible crimes, others can snap just by witnessing immoral or unjustified endeavors. Just ask Bradley Manning.
It can lead to great spiritual conflict in our enlisted men and women, and can stimulate hidden issues in some individuals. Being asked to ignore something egregiously wrong creates a puzzle in a person’s mind, and there are almost always pieces missing with no hope for finding the answers. This leads to mental health problems.
More American soldiers in Iraq committed suicide in 2009 than died in combat. Last year, 349 American soldiers took their own life in Afghanistan. It is a telling perspective on the mental health of our soldiers.
It’s not just our military. Suicide is a rampant problem in America. In fact a recent article in the New York Times discussed a recent surge in suicide rates of middle aged Americans. Ever since the terrorist attacks on the twin towers, we are generally quicker to fear that our lives are in danger, and this cultivates mental illness.
We are paranoid that the terrorists are going to strike again, that the stock market is going to crash, that somebody is going to steal our identity and our pension. We’re paranoid that criminals are plotting to take everything away from us, including our lives. Most of these fears are irrational or suspect at best.
Our fears and conflicts increasingly show cracks in the myth of the brave soldier. Those inside and outside the military are dealt bad hands with the lack of proper mental health treatment. For our men and women who serve in combat, they are put through horrors no one should be put through and yet are expected to still be the same as they were before their combat experience.
America is facing a crisis in the mental health and stability of so many aspects of its society. This crisis has become far worse as it has been relegated to the pharmaceutical industry for larger profits, adding an insult to injury.
Pharmaceutical companies are making money hand over fist by numbing the masses, sustaining people’s ability to handle menial tasks, but sedating their impulses to seek and foment real change.
Our crisis of mental health and how it affects us all is only an outgrowth of our priorities as a society. We must all find our solutions, even as our system continues to let us down. As many resort to suicide to cope with the enduring strains of fear and conflict, we must strive to help each other and cope with our traumas.
We should be healthier, cooperating, having conversations with people, not being on edge and suspecting everyone of wrong doing. Maybe that sounds hippy-dippy and “weak” but it’s healthier than paranoia and aggression. Think about it.