Active military personnel face a surprisingly high suicide rate that puts them at risk long after they come home from service. During the first 155 days of 2012, nearly 50 percent more soldiers committed suicide than died fighting the war in Afghanistan. Combating such numbers requires programs that can identify signs of mental distress and provide effective treatment.
Taking Mental Distress Seriously
In the past, soldiers in the Marines were expected to be “tough” enough to withstand the mental distresses of war. Today, though, the Marines and other military branches realize that mental health is just as important as physical health.
Marine Corps Suicide Prevention Program
The Marine Corps Suicide Prevention Program (MCSPP) provides training and assistance to help lower the suicide rate amongst military personnel during and after service. This program recognizes that soldiers commit suicide for a variety of reasons, including work-related stressors, disciplinary actions, and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
MCSPP makes commanders responsible for implementing anti-suicide programs for their troops. These programs should:
- raise awareness of the problem
- provide early intervention when possible
- evaluate and provide mental health services to soldiers who show signs of a stress disorder, depression, or other condition that puts them at risk
- provide postvention services for soldiers and their families once service has been completed
This and other programs (such as those offer by Veterans Affairs) can provide a more successful reintroduction to society for soldiers who may have experienced intense stress during their service. By addressing these concerns and providing education, the Marine Corps hopes to lower the suicide rate.
Getting Family and Friends Involved
In many cases, the signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTDS), depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues do not become apparent until a Marine has returned to civilian life or taken a station outside of an active warzone.
Family and friends, therefore, should know the early warning signs of suicide ideation and other mental health issues. Because mental health problems can cloud a person’s judgment, he or she may not fully recognize that a significant disorder has developed.
Friends and relatives should look for warning signs such as:
- Substance abuse (alcohol or other drugs)
- Changes in personality and behavior
- Panic attacks
- Increased risk-taking behaviors
Anyone who notices these signs should contact MCSPP or a local Marine Corps office immediately.
Factors of Suicide
Family and friends should also know some factors that put Marines at a higher risk of suicide. Some of the most common factors include:
- Recent or pending disciplinary action
- Pending legal actions
- Losing a family member or close friend
- Losing a fellow Marine
- Financial hardship
- Medical issues
- Previous suicide attempts
When loved ones understand these risk factors, they can play an important role in a Marines rehabilitation. The Marine Corps offers mental health services that can address these and similar issues so that the soldier learns how to make healthy changes in his or her life instead of falling into the desperation and mental anguish that often leads to suicide.
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