Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 16 years ago, I lost the life I once knew, but in the process re-created a better me. I am alive and functional today because of my dog, my treatment team, my sobriety, and my willingness to re-create myself within the confines of this illness. I hate the illness, but I'm grateful for the person I've become and the opportunities I've seized because of it. I hope writing a depression blog will reduce stigma and improve the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness. All original content copyright to me: etta. Enjoy your visit!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Suicide Rate Among Vets Rising

Veterans appear to be at higher risk of suicide leading the military to seek help from NIMH to research the problem. The article states the Army cannot pinpoint the cause or reason for many of its soldiers suicides. Those of us with underlying mental illness know too well there doesn't have to be a reason.
My first suicide attempt was planned for a time when my life would appear great, no trauma or stress immediately preceeded it. In fact, the people around me probably thought I was feeling better. I was. I was relieved it would be over soon.
I imagine having depression or bipolar disorder in the military would be extremely difficult. I imagine many struggling soldiers keep their thoughts and feelings secret, and therefore don't receive proper treatment. I'm glad the Army has stepped forward to initiate such an important study, but I also hope they institute stigma-busting education so their soldiers will feel free to seek necessary treatment. Remember, the number one cause of suicide is untreated depression!
The following article appeared in the NY Times:

Army and Agency Will Study Rising Suicide Rate Among Soldiers

Published: October 29, 2008

Conceding it needed outside help in figuring out why the suicide rate among service members was rising, the Army announced plans on Wednesday to collaborate with the National Institute of Mental Health in an ambitious five-year project to identify the causes and risk factors of suicide.

The Army will make thousands of soldiers available to researchers for interviews and will provide access to its many databases, including those with medical, personnel, criminal and deployment histories. Researchers will draw from a cross section of the Army and will include soldiers who have just joined the service or are training for war and those who have returned from war.

Rather than wait until the study is completed, the National Institute of Mental Health will provide the Army with new information as researchers find it in the hopes of preventing soldier suicides.

Peter Geren, the secretary of the Army, described the five-year, $50 million study as a “landmark undertaking” modeled after the Framingham Heart Study. That influential study looked at heart health over a long period of time among a large group of participants who had not yet developed symptoms or suffered a heart attack.

“The goal is to build resiliency and to prevent suicide,” said Mr. Geren, who approached the National Institute of Mental Health with the idea to partner on the project.

Suicides in the Army have been climbing since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 2007, 115 soldiers killed themselves, a rate of 18.1 per 100,000 people, or 1 percent lower than the civilian rate.

Of the 115, 36 soldiers killed themselves while deployed overseas, 50 had deployed at some point before the act and returned, and 29 had never deployed. Only a fraction had a prior diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The pace of suicides by soldiers in 2008 could eclipse last year’s. As of August, the number stood at 62 confirmed cases in the Army. An additional 31 deaths appear to be suicides and are under investigation.

Dr. S. Ward Cassells, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said the Army was familiar with the most common triggers: marital or relationship problems, poor job performance, feelings of failure on the battlefield and alcohol or drug abuse. Yet, in half the cases, Dr. Cassells said, the Army cannot figure out why the suicide occurred.

“We’ve reached a point where we do need some outside help,” Dr. Cassells said. “We’ve learned a lot. We’ve also learned we don’t understand it all.”

Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said researchers would study, among other things, the role that combat and multiple deployments play in suicide. They will conduct follow-up surveys of soldiers to show how risk factors evolve over time and shift their focus, as they see fit, depending on what they find. The study also will look at existing treatments and gauge their effectiveness.

The findings could be far-reaching not just for the Army but for civilians, as well, Dr. Insel said.

“The Army really is a microcosm of the nation,” he said.

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