NP: U.S. Military and the Anti-suicide Campaign?

By James W. Astrada

 

As of late, reports show a high number of suicides/attempted suicides taking place within the U.S Army.  It appears that the numbers from July doubled since June’s overall totals.  The pentagon has vowed to take action in result labeling the situation “a puzzling problem.”  Although the only branch of the U.S. military that publicly announces their suicide cases is the U.S. Army, they displayed that 26 active members killed themselves in July as opposed to only 12 in June.  This report has been the highest ever since the Army has been releasing data as of 2009.  To make matters worse, other branches have had report as well including 6 in June and 8 in July for Marines, 2 in June and 6 in July for the Air Force, and 4 in July and no information provided for June for the Navy.  Most are arguing that the reason for such high numbers in the Army is due to the amount they have on active duty.  For the first months of 2012, the record of suicides among active duty were 116, and some are worried that if this pace continues, the number will be well over 200 by December this year.

With the 26 that committed suicide in July, all were male (with 13 married, 10 single and 3 divorced).   The Associated Press is the first to receive these reports through the Department of Defense (DoD); however the report only happens once a year.  Within the report, results have shown that a staggering 154 suicides have occurred within the first 155 days of the year up until June 3rd.  The Tragedy Assistance Program intended to assists soldiers and their families in times of crisis have noted that counseling and intervention have happened too little or too late.  The lack of assistance for these soldiers could be halted if the government took a little more care in providing the right tools and programs to help soldiers cope with their deployment responsibilities.

It seems the Army will take action; however not in ways that many will agree with.  As of late, the U.S. government has awarded scientists at the Indiana University School of Medicine $3 million to develop an anti-suicide nasal spray that delivers antidepressant chemical to the brain. Dr. Kubeck and his research team have three years to develop, test, and analyze whether this spray is safe for combat soldiers.  With the U.S. Army’s suicide rate being the highest ever, some deem this will be a solution.  Using the key ingredient TRH or thyro-tropin releasing hormone could in fact slow the rate of suicide due to its known effects of producing a calm, euphoric, and antidepressant effect on the individual. The government has been using this drug since the 1970s especially for bipolar disorders, depression and suicidal thoughts in patients.  If it is such a promising drug, why hasn’t the government utilized this during the 2011-2012 year when suicide rates became alarming?  Dr. Kubeck explained that they were still having trouble making this drug readily available for easy passage to the brain.  Until recently, doctors have administered this drug through an injection into the spinal cord. It seemed that pills and blood injections rejected TRH passage to the brain.  However with new technology, Dr. Kubeck assured promising results with nasal passage as TRH was able to transmit through: This is far from a soldiers-only solution. Potentially, if this works, we have an entirely new type of pharmacology.”

If and when this does pass the test, soldiers will be carrying this nasal spray in case of crisis during combat to allow them to continue without thoughts of suicide or depression.  If military tests are indeed successful, this spray might be utilized on the civilian population as concern has heightened for them as well.  With suicide being the 4th largest cause of death, will this be a positive result?  Depression and unhappiness are signs of concern for each individual that something in their life is not in balance.  The reasons could number in the millions from past experiences or genetically passed down as a mental condition.  Science can do wonderful things for each individual’ however will this spray have temporary relief or will it permanently curtail the thoughts deep within the individual? 

Suppressing the idea or thought doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it will not resurface with even more conviction.  Human emotions are very complex in terms of having a fixed diagnosis on exactly what and why we are feeling a certain way.  Although most of these are controlled by our nervous/endocrine system, the goal of eliminating or even controlling them is difficult to say the least.  Perhaps these soldiers want to convey their feelings to someone who will really listen besides offering them “psychological advice.”  Most individuals will not come forward due to fear of being labeled insane or psychologically unstable. 

Suicide is a very complex phenomenon concerning the human being.   This must mean something in the grand scheme of things.  Why did our creators allow room for this “choice among choices?” Statistics show that over one million people kill themselves every year (2800 a day, one every thirty seconds!) In the U.S. over 36,000 people a year where every 15 minutes an American commits suicide. Men are four times as likely have a higher number of suicides than women although women have attempted more.  Clearly this is an unheard epidemic that affects everyone.  Why are human so prone to suicide?  Could it be due to complex nature? Is it due to how we really feel about the world around us, its culture, customs, the nature of how society works, hunger, famine, disease, poverty, or war?  Could it be that American soldiers are tired of war and the way they view the actions they have done to the other side?  Could it be they are tired of fighting for reasons they really don’t have an understanding of?  As far as we can tell these answers are far from being completed.  It may be true that this new scientific breakthrough will suppress these thoughts making us less human.  Maybe these cries for help being unanswered have a deeper meaning and those in power are not willing to hear it.

 

References

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Facts and Figures. National Statistics. (afsp.org).

Robert Burns. “Army Suicides Doubled Last Month from June’s Total.” Huffington Post (August 2012).

Associated Press. “U.S. Army Grants $3 Million for Anti-suicide Nasal Spray Research.” Rt.com (August 2012).

De Leo, D. Struggling against suicide: the need for an integrative approach. Crisis (2002).

Goldney, R. D. A Note on the Reliability and Validity of Suicide Statistics. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law (2010).

Silverman, M. M.  The language of suicidology. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behaviour (2006).

© Copyright 2012. James Astrada.

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