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When service members die by suicide, they look a lot like civilian suicides (fivethirtyeight.com)
85 points by curtis 188 days ago | hide | past | web | 35 comments | favorite

Definitely written by someone not in, and not closely related to anyone on.

There is a sense of puzzlement that help isn't sought. But in some MOS and some fields and some clearances seeking help is career suicide. Not all, but some. Not all soldiers are career and not all MOS and security clearances require no mental illness diag of course. So a soldier will only seek help if he's ready to pull the trigger on career suicide in which case doing the real thing is a microstep. You can tell people to seek help all you want to make you feel better about doing something, but if they know by example that their lifes work will be wiped out and they'll be unemployed in weeks if they actually follow thru and seek help, well, you do the math.

Second gaping hole is some of the support REMF (I was a REMF so I can use that acronym "proudly") have higher sec clearances than some front line. Naturally that means some front line both see some interesting stuff and if they get help for what they saw they might not lose their job. And the REMF now a days might get blown up in a convoy or IED or whatever as bad as a front line, yet if they seek help its bye bye MOS.

I have no personal experience with this, I was in during the early 90s but I kinda keep up with the times. There's an old saying about it being a rather permanent solution to a temporary problem. Young kids tend to have poor concept of time. A year in Korea is bad, but not worth offing yourself, unless you're a dumb kid, but then you don't want to speak ill of the dead, so ...

As with most big messes there is no simple solution and the more you know, the more complicated it is...

But in some MOS and some fields and some clearances seeking help is career suicide.

This is a truly toxic misnomer - and one that needs to die. As a former CC of one of those types of units, I can tell you that the only way that would happen is if your mental health issue caused a real world problem that created a chance that you could be vulnerable to coercion from a FIA. I've never heard of someone who got read off because they were diagnosed with something - it's always been in conjunction with them doing something illegal or vulnerable to exploit.

If an SCI troop seeks counseling, either through Doc or something like MIL One Source, you will have no issues, even with a diagnosis. Once you've passed through screening, indoc, training and are in the game it would be ridiculous to take someone out cause they got rattled. In fact we always pushed it mental health heavily to all of the other spooks cause there are real mind fucks in playing our games that can get to people.

Second gaping hole is some of the support REMF (I was a REMF so I can use that acronym "proudly") have higher sec clearances than some front line.

In fact, it's most likely that a REMF (read: non 11/18/03) will have a higher clearance. Spot on too with the fact that a lot of non-standard troops are seeing the worst parts of the shit. Aside from SOF, Docs, Spooks and Engineers have been taking the brunt of it the past few years.

This isn't true at all. I had a TS-SCI and was aircrew. I got diagnosed with "Depressive Disorder Not Otherwise Specified" after a SINGLE visit to the base psychiatrist and was permanently taken off of flight duty. It literally ruined my career and I basically had to beg for an early discharge.

Either someone fucked up really badly (happens with everything from time to time) or this isn't the whole story.

If nothing else because no Mental Health professional would give a formal diagnosis for DD-NOS after one visit. I know cause I was given that along with a host of others after years of visits to Military Mental Health - so I'm no stranger to the system.

Your SCI doesn't apparently relate to this story as you were made DNIF and nothing else according to you. Did you get read off SCI?

I'm not saying that people don't get fucked, but there are as many people that have been DNIF or separated for things like arthritis in the pinky toe (yes I know someone that happened to) or some kind of funky random thing that wouldn't otherwise be an issue.

Being put on permanent DNIF and being removed from my AFSC (into 'Awaiting Retraining-Reasons Beyond Control') obviously removed my reason for having an SCI. Talk about pedantry.

I was diagnosed with depression and 'avoidant personality disorder' after one visit, yes. I had to attend many therapist sessions afterwards, it wasn't my only one. The psychiatrist was a USAF officer. I have no reason to lie about this 10 years later on Hacker News.

My point is: I was fed the line about 'just get help it won't hurt blah blah' by people like you and it turned out to be lies. It isn't and wasn't good advice. The stigma exists for a reason.

It's no different than the other terrible advice of "Don't go to sick call cause [insert bad outcome]." At the end of the day whatever problem you have, physical or mental, is going to come out and be worse in left untreated.

99.9% of people in high stakes military jobs who seek treatment will have no adverse impacts on their career from seeking mental health treatment.

I don't know enough about your case to make any further comment but the plural of anecdote isn't data.

Your fake statistic isn't data either lol.

No argument there.

I was about to question the OP as well. The NAVY at least has gone through a bunch of work to make it difficult for skilled/invested-in workers to leave.

If it was that easy to rid yourself of clearance, A LOT of programs would empty themselves out pretty rapidly.

You have good judgment and I have good judgment but the troop who's whole problem is poor judgment WRT a dumb permanent solution to a temporary treatable problem is by the nature of the problem not going to react very well to "that created a chance" and "vulnerable to exploit" type of talk. If the whole point is they're coming up with a drastically wrong solution to a problem, theoretical probability talk is the same as 100% certain to them in their bad judgment situation. Or maybe another way to phrase it is if the troop inaccurately thinks he's in the worst situation humanly imaginable, telling him that the half of the guys who aren't in the very worst situation turn out fine, isn't really much encouragement, because by definition if the troop had judgment good enough to interpret the problem as something the docs can patch up, it wouldn't be a problem... From the point of view of the troop with a problem, you're publicly agreeing with me.

Another important point is in the army its not as simple as civilians see everything not forbidden is compulsory and everything not compulsory is forbidden. Its much more nuanced and for lifers losing out on a competitive slot or promotion or MOS reclass is a major problem. There's a difference in the army between "we're kicking you out" and "we're not supporting your career progression anymore". Essentially the latter is waiting for them to leave, the army can be surprisingly passive-aggressive as a policy. Yes if you go to BH you almost certainly won't get kicked out for that reason, but a hoped for career and retirement could evaporate just as effectively as if the troop got kicked out.

I haven't filled out a SF86 in probably 30 years, but I found a copy online at opm.gov and its right there on page 84 they want all the info on any mental health counseling. If it truly didn't matter then they wouldn't be wasting time asking.

I can sympathize with the Army's need to kick mentally ill people out (preferably with treatment). The problem with a depressed chopper pilot is if he decides to CFIT into a mountain that's a very expensive helicopter and the passengers almost certainly didn't want to come along. The fundamental nature of the army mission is an individual's problem is the team's problem.

If what you are saying is true it has changed significantly since the '80s/early '90s. Back then psych help could truly be a career killer.

> So a soldier will only seek help if he's ready to pull the trigger on career suicide

This matches my relative's experience. He only got help with PTSD once he was given the green light to retire from 20 years in TS clearance job. It's pretty frustrating, once you see how dramatically their life improves following a few months of seeing a psychologist. He could've gotten that help a decade ago.

The point of the article is to point out that the incidences of suicide in the military isn't disproportionate to civilians. This is something that's being blown out of proportion by the media and in return Congress pushes down DoD to make this a bigger issue than what it really is.

Furthermore, your relative is a grown adult who decided that he should stay the course and not see a therapist for his condition based on possible consequences on his career. Clearly this happens in every career where there are high rewards, in this case a life time pension(valued over $1mm). Well, shit guess what, he made to him what seems like the best choice.

For reference, look at a surgeon who is getting the shakes on his right hand or the NFL player hiding his broken collarbone injury during his free agent try outs. Or for a more military reference: the young guy hiding his fracture on X bone during selection phase for Y job. (doctor's typical question: "why didnt you come to us sooner when you knew something was wrong", clearly has no idea the drive and motivation behind the young man)

>The point of the article is to point out that the incidences of suicide in the military isn't disproportionate to civilians.

Note that for this to be OK, we should expect to see the same number of incidences in the military as one expects to see in civilians.

If we have a reason to expect lower suicide rates from military personnel (e.g. better health, less incidents of alcoholism/substance abuse, no joblessness, regular psychiatric evaluations, etc compared to the general population), then it's not OK.

I think the comments above are pointing out what appear to be perverse incentives surrounding seeking mental health resources. It raises the question of whether those incentives could be changed in a way that all parties would benefit.

So dismissive and ignorant of systemic causes, reduces problems to an individual's "choices". Diagnosis: conservatism.

Now i'm about as far removed from this area as you can get, but would "mandatory counseling" be helpful?

Require that everyone get counseling all the time. I don't really have an answer for how "confidential" to keep those records (keeping them 100% confidential is fantastic, but I can also see the merit of knowing your soldier is mentally stable...), but at the very least requiring every single service member at least attend would put them in the room with a therapist and get them accustomed to talking about things.

I'm sure there would still be issues (like a "Has PTSD" checkbox that would cause the same result as you describe), but would it be a net positive?

I would never open up to a therapist my employer forced me to go to. If anything, I'd self-pay an independent therapist and keep it off insurance so they wouldn't know.

How about if your health insurance provider forced you to go themselves, and were legally mandated to not tell your employer that they were doing so?

Your employer doesn't know how your insurance is used, so you can feel free to go to the therapist through your insurance all you want. Or did you meant that you'd keep it off the books so your _insurance_ wouldn't know? Why would they care?

I'm as far removed or more so but don't police have some form of this whenever they discharge their weapon? I realize that can't logistically happen very easily in a combat situation. I would at least hope there would be the option to talk to someone about it. Someone that doesn't pass judgment and just simply listens. I feel like in this scenario anything is better than nothing at all.

There are little questionnaires(online) throughout the year that might flag someone with any kinds of issues. Obviously, you can easily lie about it, then again so could you hide issues from your doctor. This a whole is a moot point. Culturally, there is awareness that intense situations like combat will mess one up mentally and are generally open to talk to a buddy or seek help.

That being said, like Tim Kennedy once said in regards to PTSD and dealing with stress its a world of difference for those who constantly train and deal with certain situations and have the infrastructure in place for them i.e- infantry & other combat arms jobs. Those who are not in those job fields aren't training for it, not mentally prepared, etc but might still be caught up in combat situations. i.e - the water specialist or accountant driving his little truck in Iraq.

To add to all this, its usually young men who commit suicide. Its just a thing they do. Which happens to be most of the military.

I got the sense the same situation exists for pilots when I read about Germanwings flight 9525. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanwings_Flight_9525

It's not just soldiers. Try immigrating to another country and the application form could ask about mental illness. Whatever they use that information for, it's surely not going to help your case.

I think the article got it close that it's really to do with being: Male, Young, White.

When I was with the firm, we had a spate of suicides on base over a short period of time. Enough for 'management' to implement an in-loco parentis type arrangement for the young, single servicemen (and women) who were housed on base in barracks.

It meant great adventure trips away - and did help give some sort of support network for those posted away from families. A better option than just drinking in the bar, at least.

There are help options available (career suicide or not), but if you're depressed/suicidal, it's actually quite difficult to reach out to those options. In a well-run workplace environment, I found the Sergeants (and up) to be both a wealth of knowledge/experience and most were quite actively involved in taking care of the well-being of us young skins.

Ive seen similar attempts to compensate, to de-toxify a base by adding on new activities. Im not a fan. It is the easy solution. The harder option is to dig out the issues. Debt. Count the number of payday loan places and casinos near the base. Drugs and alcohol. Count the bars. Then turn to the attitudes of team leaders. Petty insults to subordinates might be part of military culture, but that doesnt mean it has to remain so. The little things add up. Improvement in these areas takes real effort, far more so than a weekly bus trip. It requires commanders to act a bit like parents, something they used to do but these days do not.

My gandfather used to speak of "hats off" activities on the base he ran. Rank had no place during such things. He said he learned more about his people at the weekly "hats off" card game than he ever did while on duty. Those sort of back channels, without any risk of getting something on someone's record, are imho missing from base culture today. But to maintain such things you need stability of leadership. Today people move around so fast that commanders have trouble even keeping track of names.

Solid reporting and analysis. To further the stark difference in point of view from a veteran to civilian is a comic strip from a famous Marine illustrator:


That's a weird mentality to think of a killer as a "dumbass" and a "huge dick" when your own job is to kill people. Does it matter if they're Americans or Iraqis? They're still people.

How to handle people that you know are suicidal, but refuse to undergo treatment? I once had this situation (luckily with a happy end), that I only knew the rough location (in another country) and tried to talk someone out of it over the course of about a week. I was very close to calling the police, but was afraid it would do more harm than good. The person I was dealing with was very rational and calm about it and would probably just convinced the police of beeing fine.

I think you handled the situation correctly. You can't do much. Just like you can't do much if a loved one is injured or sick and dying but they do not want to go to a doctor (this actually happened to a friend). It's very hard to get a handle on these situations because most 1st world countries have a strong concept of individual liberty. I am actually glad it is that way, but I also realize how awful those situations are. But frankly, I'd rather not erode liberty to better deal with such cases, I think the problem has to be attacked from another direction, i.e. not stigmatising mental health problems, more conversation, tolerance, education about mental health, etc.

I just got a notice on Facebook. Another brother lost his battle. I don't use Facebook except to every month or so check in on a group of guys I deployed with. It seems like one or two each year take their own life. This has been going on the last ten years. Many others have struggled but haven't committed suicide (yet, it pains me to say).

After reading the article I still don't understand what's going on. I wonder if it has something more to do with society in general and how men in this demographic are received. I've heard almost all of my brothers say they feel rejected by society, or like an alien in their community. I feel/felt the same way.

I agree with you that there's a feeling of alienation from society. From my own experience, I felt a growing sense of isolation from the people that were closest to me.

I feel that many coming out of the military are put at a disadvantage compared to their civilian counterparts. Coming home from deployment, I'd lost touch with many of my friends, had broken up with my long term girlfriend, and had scarce job opportunities. The military has made some efforts to better help reintegrate with the civilian world, but they all fall short because they have no particular expertise or influence on what happens outside of service. They can't help you much with finding a job or mending your relationships other than impersonal job assistance programs or a couple MWR trips with your family. I eventually found some success but my military service and its side effects were a hole that I had to dig myself out of with the help of my friends and family.

I think that successful reintegration requires a strong support network. I'm fortunate to have strong family connections and a few friends that were there for me. I still reach out to some of those I served with to have coffee and just chat about life, though I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't been as good about it as the years have gone by. Good on you for continuing to reach out to your battle buddies -- I'm sure you're making a positive impact in each of their lives.

All I can do is listen here and maybe learn something.

An insightful article from a few years ago: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/us/marine-battalion-veter...

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