Saturday, February 23, 2008

Suicide and War

Just a drive-by post. I'm in the middle of writing a much longer one, but it's taking me a while and I didn't want to go too long without posting.

There has been a fair amount of discussion in the mainstream news media recently about veteran suicides:
Miami Herald story
CBS news story

This really highlights the "environment" vs. "individual biology" question a lot of people struggle with when dealing with mental health issues. I think most people would agree that soldiers aren't predisposed to mental illness, although they may be, as a group, less able to access care (this is especially true of older veterans, as opposed to Iraq or Afghanistan war veterans), which could in turn influence suicide and attempt rates. But I think it's also clear that the experience of conflict can be extremely damaging. (I've written about the psychological stresses of battle - especially the stress of overcoming one's natural revulsion at the thought of killing another human, and the attendant guilt - at my other blog, here.)

Obviously individual differences play a major role here, otherwise many more people would be suicidal. But at the same time, I think it would be foolish to claim that the trauma of war is not causing, at least in part, some of these soldiers' suicides. If we can accept that the environment is systemically producing "mental illness" in these soldiers, why can't we accept that it might be doing so in other circumstances and in less obvious ways?

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