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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Two Soldier Suicides Reveal Flawed Mental Health System

One American soldier commits suicide every day, on average. And in an article about why the military hasn’t succeeded in reducing the problem, Time Magazine profiles two soldiers who killed themselves on the same day.

The stories of Dr. Michael McCaddon and helicopter pilot Ian Morrison illustrate “two different ends of the same spectrum,” according to Time’s Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson.

Ian Morrison — A Soldier Who Knew He Needed Help

CPT Ian Samuel Morrison committed suicide March 21, 2012. (Photo: West Point)

Officer Ian Morrison was a helicopter pilot and his wife was a mental health  professional who knew he needed help and tried to help him get it.

“[Morrison] was somewhat atypical… in that he was very eager to get help,” Thompson told Here & Now‘s Monica Brady-Myerov.

At Fort Hood Texas before he died, Morrison tried to get help at least six times, Thompson says. But he was either shunted aside or told that the wait was too long and to come back next month.

“When somebody reaches out for help, he must not be told, ‘Sorry come back in two hours,’ or ‘Sorry come back next week,'” Thompson said. “Or be put on hold as Captiain Morrison was for at least 45 minutes before he killed himself.”

Dr. Michael McCaddon — Didn’t Get The Help He Needed

Captain Michael Ryan McCaddon, M.D. committed suicide March 21, 2012. (Gloucester Times)

Before his suicide, Dr. Michael McCaddon had been a bomb defuser,  who then went to medical school to become an Army obstetrician. He wasn’t deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, but he had served in Bosnia. And he had a history of depression. His biological father had also committed suicide.

“He knew he had these issues, and he sought help… Perhaps not as much as his wife Leslie thought he needed,” Time’s Mark Thompson said.

McCaddon had a fear that he wouldn’t be promoted if it was revealed that he had mental health problems.

And when he got in his residency, his work load intensified, and he began lashing out at his family. Then his wife went to McCaddon’s commander, without her husband’s knowledge, and pleaded with her get her husband some help.

“[Leslie] told her, ‘Get my husband some help. Encouraging him isn’t good enough. You can order him to get that help,'” Thompson said. “The Army resolutely, on at least two occasions, said, ‘No, frankly Leslie, this sounds more like a family problem than an Army problem.”

Months later, McCaddon killed himself.

What Suicides Illustrate

Peter Chiarelli, who recently retired as the Army’s second in command, told Time that there aren’t enough mental health professionals in the Army, or sufficient funds put towards soldier mental health.

Chiarelli told Thompson about a study that appeared to show that two-hour long consultations for soldiers can help with mental health problems.

“But we, the U.S. government and the U.S. taxpayers, just have not allocated sufficient funds to allow that sort of intense mental health counseling to occur,” Thompson said.

As he writes:

“No program, outreach or initiative has worked against the surge in Army suicides, and no one knows why nothing works. The Pentagon allocates about $2 billion—nearly 4 percent of its $53 billion annual medical bill—to mental health. ‘That simply isn’t enough money,’ says Peter Chiarelli… “And those who seek help are often treated too briefly.”

But Thompson adds that the Pentagon has tried a lot to deal with the problem, and its unclear how to reduce the suicides.

“If there’s a suicide expert in this country he or she’s been contacted by the Pentagon.” Thompson said. “They are plainly reaching out everywhere.”

The military has tried everything from therapy dogs to aromatherapy to acupuncture to massage to yoga.

“The military may be in many ways a high bound institution, but when it realizes it is dealing with an insidious enemy it will bring all forces to bear,” he said.

Will Suicide Rate Drop After Wars End? 

With the Iraq War over, and the war in Afghanistan ending soon, Thompson says one would expect suicide rates to fall. But one senior former Army psychiatrist told him “Not exactly.”

Readjusting back to family life can add stress, as will the fact that many soldiers will be losing their jobs.

Thompson says the military budget will also be cut, and along with it possibly mental health services.

“Both TBI [Traumatic Brain Injury] and PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] can be seen as seeds [for] trouble down the road,” he said. “They don’t immediately sprout, some never sprout. But others sprout a month, six months, a year, two years after they’re planted.”

Guest:

  • Mark Thompson, Pentagon correspondent for Time magazine

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