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I saw active service in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Force. I was the founder of the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes in 1989 and its chairman until I left in 1997. Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that had been abandoned by the West and were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism and organised crime. EO also operated in South America and the Far East. I believe that only Africans (Black and White) can truly solve Africa’s problems. I was appointed Chairman of STTEP International in 2009 and also lecture at military colleges and universities in Africa on defence, intelligence and security issues. Prior to the STTEP International appointment, I served as an independent politico-military advisor to several African governments. I am a contributor to The Counter Terrorist magazine. All comments in line with the topics on this blog are welcome. As I consider this to be a serious look at military and security matters, foul language and political or religious debates will not be entertained on this blog.

Monday, November 7, 2011

HIGH SUICIDE RATES PLAGUE THE VETERAN COMMUNITY

by
  Douglas Karr, USN Veteran
  Operations Desert Storm & Desert Shield

(I would not normally publish another writer’s article on my blog but this is for a good cause. My hope is that veterans that visit this blog may find some value in Doug’s article).


According to The Chronicle of Higher Education close to half of all veterans have contemplated suicide and 20 percent have made actual plans to kill themselves. Suicide among returning soldiers has become a rampant problem over the past decade.

Reasons for Suicide

There are many reasons veterans contemplate suicide. Frequently, returning soldiers are faced with difficulty reintegrating into civilian life when they return from combat. Additionally, in today’s economy, veterans are also forced to deal with the difficulty of finding civilian employment and may also be stunned to discover that their home is in or on the verge of foreclosure. Add to this potential injuries and long-term health issues that arise from being exposed to combat conditions and the risk of suicide escalates among veterans.

When someone contemplates suicide, it is often because they simply cannot see a future for themselves. They do not have feelings of hope that things will get better or their lives will improve. For veterans with PTSD or severe physical injuries, pain can also be a contributing factor. For those with PTSD, the symptoms of the condition can be so overwhelming that soldiers may feel completely out of control and they may never regain their equilibrium. For those with physical pain symptoms, the pain may become so hard to cope with that they would rather not live than continue living with the pain.

Symptoms of Depression and Suicide Risk

Depression often goes hand-in-hand with risk for suicide. Common symptoms of depression include irritability, difficulty sleeping (sleeping less or more than normal), changes in appetite (eating more or less than usual), feeling down or depressed, feeling hopeless, feeling sad, crying, problems with concentration and difficulty being motivated.

People who are contemplating suicide may have access to ways to hurt themselves, they may actually develop a plan and may even consider what to say to those they leave behind.  They may go through a process of giving away possessions that mean something to them. Or may also talk about what they want to happen when they are no longer living.

Suicide and depression are health conditions that are vastly different from those faced by veterans who were exposed to hazardous materials like asbestos and later developed mesothelioma and asbestos cancer. Depression and risk for suicide often cannot be traced back to a specific cause, but to an accumulated set of events.

If you believe you are depressed or know of veterans who you are concerned may hurt themselves, call the Veterans Crisis Line. They have trained staff to help them and potentially prevent a tragic death.

For more information or if you wish to get advice and help, please contact Doug at dkarrusn@gmail.com

10 comments:

michael b said...

Depression and the inability to fit in is a reality. Long after the scars are still there. Its how people choose to deal and accept their predicament that steers the way. We can only take so much till we get desensitised to such a degree that makes us socially stunted. Admitting to having a problem is the first most important step. Not unlike the steps taken with alcoholics anonymous. Admitting to a debilitating problem is half the battle won and nothing to be ashamed of. The only thing to be ashamed of is "melting" down while working on a contract and embarresing yourself and endangering your comrades. Having problems due to stress doesnt make you weak but freaking in the field and putting your team in harms way is. The weakest member of a team is not the dude that admits he is out of his depth but the one that fails to launch when the "poo" flies for real and leaves everyone in the lurch crying for mommy. In the field your mates are closer than family and you owe it to them to tell them that yot are having issues. If you dont, those issues could kill your friends. What is more of an embarresment? 1. Being excluded from a mission or 2. Going down in history as causing the death of members of your group?
It is great that you have brought this to peoples attention so that those struggling with PTSD can get help without being looked down upon. It is not a weakness, it is simply an involuntary reaction to relentless stress. Its high time it was brought up and confronted.
Mike. Bk 32.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Good points, Mike. It is thanks to Doug for raising the issue and writing the posting.

This is a very delicate matter to many and I agree with you that guys owe it to themselves and their families to seek help if they even remotely feel they need it. Left to fester is not the way to go.

I marvel at the resources other armies have and which we in the SADF of old never really had any clue about. In those days, you just had to grin and bear it. I think we are witnessing many delayed responses carried over from those days.

However, it is certainly no sign of weakness. In fact, weakness is quickly identified along with cowardice for what they are – but continued stress during operations can have a different effect on each of us. The important thing is to identify it in time and take corrective action.

Rgds,

Eeben

Feral Jundi said...

Good topic. The one aspect of this industry that has not been reported on or studied, and the one that I am most in the dark on, is suicide amongst the contracting community. I know it's there, I hear of guys killing themselves here and there, but I have no idea how big of a problem it really is.

Luckily, most are veterans, and have access to help through various veteran programs. Today's generation of veteran does have way more resources than yesteryear's veteran.

I also get the occasional email from readers who are looking for help, or have a friend or loved one that needs help. That is awesome, and I try to get them pointed in the right direction. But what concerns me are those who are afraid of getting help, or have lost hope. They are out there, silently suffering, and the community needs be watchful and try to interpret what is going on with these individuals so they can reach out and help them.

It is also a shock to friends and family when it happens. Two years ago, a smokejumper buddy of mine committed suicide. I had no idea that he was suicidal or depressed, but he was, and he took his life. Everyone that knew him was shocked, to include myself. He was always laughing and joking, and a fun guy to be around. But he had some dark stuff going on inside him.

These things are such a hard thing to identify in someone, and when it happens to a friend, coworker or loved one, it is a sledgehammer of reality.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I agree with you Matt. This aspect seems to be swept under the carpet when it comes to contractors. But, many of them are veterans and I suspect that offer to be helped applies to them as well. Just how big this problem is with contractors is really unknown.

It is good to know that you receive calls for help and that you can point them in the right direction. Many folks simply try to keep a stiff upper lip and carry on even when the warning signals are there.

I only hope that those who are troubled and manage to get to see Doug’s article will get the help they need. After all, they owe it to themselves and their families.

Rgds,

Eeben

John said...

Good Evening Eeben,

No comment except thanks.

As I have truly come to expect from this blog, another very important topic. I do hope your men and followers can know that there are others out in the world who feel the same and they are not alone.

Leading....

Best Regards,
John

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks John. However, all credit to Doug for writing the article. I just hope that those veterans who feel concerned can take heed and seek help. Better to have help and not need it than need it and not have help.

Rgds,

Eeben

graycladunits said...

Dear Eeben and Others:

I was never a war veteran, but owing to the recent suicide of my best friend's girlfriend I can easily relate to this thread and to the site of violent death as my best friend and I walked into the room as she was taking her last half dozen breaths after having shot herself in the heart. We have no clue as to why she did it except that maybe her medicines reacted with each other and produced suicidal thoughts. She left behind a son and her 4th grade class that she taught.

The two most valid points I can make from this trajedy is to tell all who read this that if you are having suicidal thoughts, then please get some counseling even if it means talking about seeing violent death as it occurred on the battlefield. Talk to friends, family, anyone who will listen, but do not end your life. Also, if you are taking any medication and having suicidal thoughts, then please ask the doctor to check to make sure your medications are not reacting with each other to produce these thoughts.

I hope I did not overstep the contributional boundaries of this blog. Feel free not to post it if I have. After what I went through 12 days ago I felt this post might make a good contribution. May God bless all who read it.

GCU

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

That is truly very sad, GCU. Even though he does not know us, please give our sincerest condolences to your friend and her family.

Even sadder is the fact that we interact with people on a daily basis and never pick up the warning signs.

You have certainly not overstepped the boundaries with your comment. Your comments are appreciated by all.

Even though difficult days will lie ahead, we hope you will all have the strength to face each day.

Rgds,

Eeben

Nilster said...

Hi Eben,

Came across this article by a "Andre C. James" about so-called SA mercenaries involved with Gadaffi&sons extraction...using one of your photo's (un-authorised?) from your book. Thought you'd like to know :) - below the link to the article

http://digitaljournal.com/article/314078

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Hi Nilster,

Thanks for the link. I had a look at it and he seems to be another so-called “journalist” who does no research and gets his “facts” very muddled. Poor fool.

I will certainly contact him and follow up his use of an EO photo for his misleading article.

Rgds,

Eeben