The tragedy of a military service member navigating despair alone seems untenable given available resources and competent psychological trauma therapy. So why are we seeing so many individuals who work in military, policing and other emergency service roles resorting to the ultimate emotional catastrophe of suicide?
This complex issue is one that involves shame, stigma, potential job loss or reprisals for seeking care; a culture of low tolerance for emotional distress; and service gatekeepers who fail to make appropriate and timely referrals or simply are too burdened themselves to notice.
Recent stories of PTSD have brought home the psychological risks of exposure to catastrophes such as war, crime and disaster, not only by military, but by all first responders. Although many service people are quite resilient and suffer no “apparent” ill effects, a significant number are profoundly affected by their experiences and suffer debilitating symptoms including nightmares, insomnia, flashbacks, depression and temper outbursts that overwhelm and torture them. Clearly, these symptoms impact not only the service person, but also their families, friends and communities.
Maintaining an attitude of strength and competence in the face of horrifying experiences, is often seen as “all in a day’s work.” The service member can feel a sense of pressure to keep on a mask of coping leaving them to carry an additional burden of silence that can result in strain that is unbearable with no relief in sight.
Psychological treatment is available, in the military through trauma centers and other resources across the country where thousands of soldiers and veterans are treated annually. We urge military members, veterans, police and emergency responders with symptoms to come forward and seek help. We also urge the leadership of these organizations to encourage self-disclosure without reprisal.
Psychologists stand ready to assist in the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of these people back into their families and communities. Politicians and community leaders put service members into harm’s way for the good of us all. We must take care of those who have been harmed physically and mentally by the work they do for us. Let’s make sure they are given the resources they need to recover. We owe it to them.
Dr. Judy Coldof, Psychologist. Sheppard Yonge Psychological Services
Dr. Anna B. Baranowsky, Ph.D., C.Psych., CEO Traumatology Institute