Suicide is as serious as it gets when it comes to the possible consequences of post-traumatic stress. The relationship between exposure to repeated traumatic events in combat, and the increasing number of suicide attempts and successful suicides from veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), is all but undeniable. The media has focused a lot of attention on the issue of suicide in returning OEF and OIF veterans, and for good reason. The number of deployed National Guardsmen who took their own lives more than doubled from 2008 to 2009. According to official military estimates, the number of hospitalizations with a primary diagnosis of “suicidal ideation,” the clinical term for attempting to kill oneself, increased more than 7,000% between 2006 and 2010. It’s estimated that 10 to 15% of deployed veterans will consider suicide. Fortunately, most will not make the attempt. Unfortunately, the majority don’t get the help they need to deal with suicidal thoughts, especially when they’re recurrent. These veterans suffer, potentially for decades, unaware that they have a treatable, predictable consequence of their exposure to combat-related trauma.
The connection between deployment-related trauma and suicide can be summarized as follows:
Deployment-related trauma can cause veterans to feel emotionally disconnected from their friends, families, and fellow veterans. Trauma can also cause veterans to assume that they’re incapable of ever re-connecting.
- The combination of feeling disconnected and the sense that a veteran is fundamentally flawed can cause the veteran to consider suicide.
- An inadvertent side effect of combat training is that veterans increase their capacity to kill themselves—that is, they develop a fearlessness of death, without which they couldn’t take their own lives.
To kill oneself, a person needs both the capacity to do so as well as the desire to die. Between training for combat and experiencing trauma while deployed, combat veterans are inadvertently “primed”, given the right circumstances, to end their lives. The result is an epidemic of suicide attempts, completed suicides, and quasi-suicidal behavior, such as “death by cop”, driving recklessly, and acting extremely belligerent while drunk