The AP analysis of Department of Defense data shows nearly 50 percent more troops killed themselves than were killed by combat in Afghanistan. This means that if things continue this way it will be the third year in a row that more American soldiers—both enlisted men and women and veterans—committed suicide than were killed in combat.
In itself the increase is disturbing, but note that it is an increase of an already existing number. In fact, the number of suicides, particularly among serving personnel in Afghanistan, has been steadily rising. Long ago the problem reached a point where both US and UK forces authorities set up confidential “support lines” and launched poster campaigns calling for troops to keep a close watch on colleagues who appear to be exhibiting suicidal behaviour, mood swings and symptoms of PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is more often than not put forward as the reason behind the suicides.
But is it the real reason?
Besides a surging suicide rate, the military is also experiencing higher incidences of sexual assault, domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse and other forms of misbehaviour.
For sure it must be traumatic being part of a military occupation of a foreign country, where the people you are said to be liberating know that you’re part of another imperial takeover and thus despise or hate you, where the opposition comes from the general population rather than a easily recognisable, uniformed standing army . It must be traumatic witnessing violent deaths, whether they be your colleagues, oppositional resistance fighters, or random civilians unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s traumatic to witness torture, although a lot less traumatic than being on the receiving end.
The fact is though, the cause of PTSD is unknown. Psychological, genetic, physical, and social factors are involved. PTSD changes the body’s response to stress. It affects the stress hormones and chemicals that carry information between the nerves (neurotransmitters).
It is not known why traumatic events cause PTSD in some people but not others. While it is normal for anxiety to occur right after a traumatic event, PTSD develops later–sometimes weeks or months after the event. Symptoms of anxiety that begin within four weeks of a traumatic event and resolve within four weeks–for example, having nightmares for a week after being in a car accident–are classified as “acute stress disorder,” and are considered to be normal. PTSD, on the other hand, develops weeks to months after the traumatic event, and symptoms can last longer.
After researching the subject, particularly with reference to situations of military conflict, I’m left still wondering at the actual causes of PTSD. I’m not the only one. There are several researchers and advocates that question the one-sided official explanations that come out of the armed forces. For example, the standard treatments for acute anxiety states among serving personnel are pharmaceutical. Unbelievably, among the list of ‘side effects’ of many of the drugs prescribed are ‘suicidal ideation and psychotic thoughts’. The truth is that more soldiers than ever are on drugs that have been linked to suicide and violent behaviour.
The US Army report titled “Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, Suicide Prevention” shows that more troops are dying by their own hand than in combat. Not only that, but 36 percent of the suicides were troops who were never deployed. In 2009 there were 160 active duty suicides, 239 suicides within the total US Army including the Reserves, 146 active duty deaths from drug overdoses and high risk behavior and 1,713 suicide attempts.
Interestingly, the unprecedented suicide rates are accompanied by an unprecedented rise in psychoactive drug rate among active duty-aged troops, 18 to 34. Between 2001 and 2010, 73,103 prescriptions for Zoloft were dispensed, 38,199 for Prozac, 17,830 for Paxil and 12,047 for Cymbalta says Tricare 2009 data. In fact, according to the Fayetteville Observer in 2010 4,994 troops at Fort Bragg were on antidepressants. 664 were on antipsychotics and “many soldiers take more than one type of medication.” All of the drugs carry a suicide warning label. In addition to the leap in SSRI antidepressants, prescriptions for the anticonvulsants Topamax and Neurontin rose 56 percent in the same group since 2005, drugs the FDA warned last year double suicidal thinking in patients. In addition to that, no-one knows what happens when the drugs are mixed with mood stabilizers, insomnia and pain pills and antianxiety and antipsychotic pills, combinations that have never been tested for safety.
The watchdog website SSRI Stories has collected over 4,000 published reports of violent and bizarre behaviour of people affected by antidepressants, which reveal the same out-of-character violence and self harm in civilians that is currently seen in the military. Incidents include:
- Soldier Kills 5 at Baghdad Psychiatric Center
- Soldier, Served in Iraq: Now With National Guard Kills Wife, Child & Self
- Soldier Ambushes Deputy
- Soldier Assaults Hospital Staff
- Soldier Attempts Suicide: Draws Smiley Face On Wall With his Own Blood
- Soldier Holds 3 Fellow Soldiers Hostage at Medical Center
- Soldier Home From Afghanistan Stabs His Girlfriend
- Soldier Kills Afghan Prisoner
- Soldier Kills his Brother & Himself
The list goes on and on and on.
Obviously, as is very often the case, all is not what it seems.
Col. Ann Wright has written two articles related to the issue, which reveal a darker aspect to the issue (just when you didn’t think it could get anymore twisted!). Is There an Army Cover Up of the Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers?, and U.S. Military Keeping Secrets About Female Soldiers’ ‘Suicides’? reveal a pattern whereby women serving in US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have died with unexplained “noncombat” gunshot wounds, deaths which have been listed as suicides by the military. Demographic aspects of the pattern include that women have been ‘women of colour’ (Black or Latino), had been raped prior to their death (one in three women who join the US military will be sexually assaulted or raped by men in the military), had expressed concerns about improprieties or irregularities in their commands, or had been in touch with their families within days of their deaths and had not expressed feelings of depression.
The above reports are essential to understanding the situation for women in those conflict zones. You will be shocked at the evidence.
Going back to the general issue of suicide amongst occupation troops. It seems likely that causative factors on the ground include combat stress, ‘stop-loss’ despair (from repeated and overlapping redeployments), and pharmaceuticals. Returning soldiers are also likely to experience unemployment, housing problems, loss of camaraderie, etc.
One potential causative factor that I’ve not yet found mentioned in the mountain of literature on the subject yet is guilt and shame. I find the absence of mention very telling. Because the truth is that military personnel in, for instance, Afghanistan and Iraq, are engaged in illegal (according to international law) military occupations of sovereign countries, prosecuting illegal (according to international law) Wars of Aggression, wherein (according to official statistics) 90% of casualties are civilians, with 45% being children.
How must it affect even the most well-intentioned soldier to know that they are part of a machine that is systematically and callously annihilating innocent people and cultures, primarily in order to take control of their mineral wealth and/or strategic position? How does it feel to be witness to or otherwise aware of (and thus complicit with your silence) war crimes committed by your colleagues? How does it feel to be part of the system that protects the abuse, rape, and even murder of your female compatriots?
By the looks of it, it doesn’t feel good at all.