Suicides grow among soldiers

By Alli Hill

The recent rise of suicides among U.S. soldiers is causing the armed forces to re-evaluate its behavioral health-care efforts in bases nationwide.

According to the Army’s “Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, Suicide Prevention” report released this year, there were 160 active-duty suicide deaths during the fiscal year of 2009, with 239 across the total Army — results that have more than doubled since previous years. In addition to those deaths, 1,713 known attempted suicides took place.

The report also released approximately 106,000 soldiers are prescribed some form of pain, depression or anxiety medications.

In his letter summarizing the report, Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the 32nd vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army, said the report reflects a year’s worth of work at the direction of the Army’s senior leadership to provide a “directed telescope” on the alarming rate of suicides in the Army.

According to the report, Chiarelli was appointed in late February 2009 to lead the Army’s efforts to focus urgent attention on the rate of suicides. He ordered the immediate activation of a Suicide Prevention Task Force in March 2009.

Tamarin Huelin, part-time counselor in Union’s counseling services, said she has never counseled a veteran or war survivor, but she has worked with many trauma survivors. She said the brain splits up traumatic memories, a process known as disassociation.

“It is a protective gift from God,” Huelin said. “If victims of trauma were fully attached to their memories, they would not be able to handle them.”

She said the memories come back to the victims in pieces, and can make victims feel like they see and hear things that are not actually happening.

Huelin said the purpose of trauma counseling is to help piece the memories together to form a real story, of which the victim can make sense.

Erin Clayton Seaton, a former Union student who left school last spring at the end of her freshman year, moved to Fort Hood, Texas, where her husband, Alex Seaton, has been stationed for a year and a half at the largest military base in the United States.

A Fort Hood press release reported 14 suicides have been confirmed and six more suspected suicides have been reported among soldiers at the Texas fort since Jan. 1. In 2009, 11 suicides were reported. The press release also stated that Maj. Gen. Will Grimsley, senior commander at Fort Hood, directed leaders to conduct heath and welfare checks in all the barracks in Fort Hood and to touch base with soldiers in the rank of sergeant and below who live off the installation.

Alex Seaton said he has met soldiers who struggle with thoughts of suicide.

“The thing soldiers struggle with so much is the rapid deployment and uncertainty that comes with (being deployed),” Alex Seaton said. “Fort Hood is a rapid deployment base, so that adds to the mental strain on soldiers.”

Erin Seaton said the statistics show how much the soldiers need prayer.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.