Army uses video games in suicide prevention
A new interactive video encourages soldiers to seek help to cope with the stress of war.
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Army suicides have increased from 79 in 2003 to 115 last year, not including attempts. About two-thirds were deployed or had deployed when they committed suicide. Senior Army officials expect this year's rate to be even higher. If so, the Army suicide rate could surpass that of the general US population of 19.5 per 100,000 people.Skip to next paragraph
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"One suicide is too many," says Col. Thomas Languirand, chief of Command Policies and Programs Division for the Army. He says the Army is not yet sure how exactly it will use the "Beyond the Front" video and won't say how many copies it plans to buy. It's just one "tool in the toolbox" for suicide prevention, says Colonel Languirand.
Ultimately, it's not about videos or pocket cards or any other programs, but about educating soldiers to look out for each other, he adds.
"If we can have soldiers understand what those behaviors are that may lead to suicidal behavior, we believe we can have them intervene and that is where we can have the most payoff."
The Marine Corps has its own problems. That service saw a high of 34 suicides in 2004, or 17.5 suicides per 100,000 marines, not including attempts. The number dropped to 25 in 2006 but has begun to increase again.
Persuading soldiers to get help
The key to suicide prevention lies in overcoming the stigma of seeking help. Individuals typically find it difficult to seek help for a mental disorder or even mild post-traumatic stress disorder in a military environment that stresses toughness and derring-do.
Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates changed Question 21 on a Defense Department survey required for security clearance, exempting soldiers from reporting mental-health treatment related to combat injuries or family issues. The move was seen as a major step in recognizing that professional counseling is a positive step, not a negative one.
"It's time we made everyone in uniform aware that the act of reaching out for help is one of the most courageous acts – and one of the first steps – to reclaiming your career and future," said Adm. Mike Mullen, in announcing the change in May.
Soldiers or marines who return from war with mental disorders may be predisposed to having them. But the severity of the trauma they encounter there can also turn a healthy soldier or marine into a sick one, says Dr. Jan Fawcett, a psychiatrist who has consulted for both military and police departments.
"You can take people who look pretty healthy and run them through the ... grinder and they will come out in shards," he says.