The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

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Date: Wed, 7 May 2008 00:21:33 -0400
From: moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG
Subject: Post-War Suicides May Exceed Combat Deaths, U.S. Says

Post-War Suicides May Exceed Combat Deaths, U.S. Says

By Avram Goldstein - May 05, 2008

May 5 (Bloomberg) -- The number of suicides among
veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may exceed the
combat death toll because of inadequate mental health
care, the U.S. government's top psychiatric researcher

Community mental health centers, hobbled by financial
limits, haven't provided enough scientifically sound
care, especially in rural areas, said Thomas Insel,
director of the National Institute of Mental Health in
Bethesda, Maryland. He briefed reporters today at the
American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting in

Insel echoed a Rand Corporation study published last
month that found about 20 percent of returning U.S.
soldiers have post- traumatic stress disorder or
depression, and only half of them receive treatment.
About 1.6 million U.S. troops have fought in the two
wars since October 2001, the report said. About 4,560
soldiers had died in the conflicts as of today, the
Defense Department reported on its Web site.

Based on those figures and established suicide rates
for similar patients who commonly develop substance
abuse and other complications of post-traumatic stress
disorder, ``it's quite possible that the suicides and
psychiatric mortality of this war could trump the
combat deaths,'' Insel said.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, is the
failure to cope after a major shock, such as an auto
accident, a rape or combat, Insel said. PTSD may remain
dormant for months or years before it surfaces, and in
about 10 percent of cases people never recover, he

Difficult to Predict

``We don't yet know how to predict who is going to be
the person to be most concerned about,'' Insel said.

The Pentagon didn't dispute Insel's remark.

``The department takes the issue of suicide very
seriously, and one suicide is too many,'' said
spokeswoman Cynthia Smith in an e-mail.

The department has expanded efforts to encourage
soldiers and veterans not to feel stigmatized if they
seek mental health treatment, Smith said.

Soldiers who'd been exposed to combat trauma were the
most likely to suffer from depression or PTSD, the Rand
report said. About 53 percent of soldiers with those
conditions sought treatment during the past year. Half
of those who got care were judged by Rand researchers
to have received inadequate treatment.

Failure to adequately treat the mental and neurological
problems of returning soldiers can cause a chain of
negative events in the lives of affected veterans, the
researchers said. About 300,000 soldiers suffer from
depression or PTSD, the report said.

Treatment Options

Researchers aren't sure whether it's appropriate to
treat such patients with selective serotonin reuptake
inhibitors, a class of medications that include Prozac,
and other anti- depressants, Insel said. His institute
is examining that question and novel treatments for
PTSD, including using so-called virtual reality

The psychiatric association reported last week that a
survey of 191 military members and their spouses found
32 percent said their duty hurt their mental health,
and six in 10 believed seeking treatment would damage
their careers.

More than 15,000 psychiatrists are attending the
professional group's meeting.

To contact the reporter on this story: Avram Goldstein
in Washington at

Last Updated: May 5, 2008 14:15 EDT


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