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Psych school strives to educate about military suicides

by Alexandra Gallucci
Jan 18, 2012


Alex Gallucci/MEDILL

A panel discussed "Personal Journeys Dedicated to Suicide Prevention in the Military" at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago Tuesday night.

Since 2010, more military servicemen committed suicide than have been killed in combat.

Depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder are common problems for active military and veterans.

But none of this is widely discussed, and these illnesses often go untreated because of a fear of stigma.

The non-military adult population has a 3 to 4 percent rate of occurrence of PTSD, while this rate in veterans returning from Iraq is nearly five times higher, at 15.6 to 17.1 percent, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

“You’re in a high-stress environment,” said Dr. Joseph Troiani, a retired Commander of the United States Navy. “If you’re deployed, you’re in an even higher-stress environment, and if you’re in active combat the stress is enough to put anyone over the edge.”

“It has been reinforced in the military that if you have mental problems, they could disqualify you or impact your ability to be promoted,” said Troiani, who also serves as coordinator of the military clinical psychology program at the Adler Professional School of Psychology in Chicago

Although old policies that once disqualified military personnel based on their diagnoses have changed, “perception has not caught up with that change,” said Troiani.

“We all know that hidden wounds can sometimes be the most deadly,” said Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, addressing students, faculty and mental health personnel and advocates at the Adler School Tuesday. For many veterans, the psychological effects of combat can be more severe than physical injury.

Graham and his wife, Carol, were among the keynote speakers in an event entitled “Personal Journeys Dedicated to Suicide Prevention in the Military.” The Grahams’ son Jeffrey was killed in action in Iraq in 2004, months after their son Kevin, a senior ROTC student at the University of Kentucky, committed suicide. The Grahams advocate for suicide prevention in the military, supporting awareness as the key to understanding those mental illnesses that most often plague the military.

Although the Grahams were aware that Kevin had depression, Carol Graham admitted, “I didn’t think of it as life and death.” Kevin had stopped taking his antidepressants because he feared losing his ROTC scholarship if the program found out about his illness.

Behavioral health in the military was once an underfunded, understaffed, and misunderstood sector. But in recent years, there has been a remarkable increase in the number of behavioral health professionals serving the military, from 16,000 in 2005 to the current 21,000. In Chicago alone, there are five vet centers, two of which are new.

In addition, the families of service members are now receiving care. Military retirees and their families are entitled to receive behavioral health care from Department of Defense hospitals and clinics. The patient population treated is composed of 60 percent uniformed service members and 40 percent family members and military retirees, according to the U.S. Navy Psychology Program.