Wednesday September 19, 2012

There is an unseen overlap between two stories reported on in Monday’s Eagle: the new focus on suicide prevention and the spike in killings of U.S. troops by insurgents wearing Afghan police and U.S. military uniforms.

What’s happening in Afghanistan right now, from my perspective as a military mental health consultant, is the most psychologically damaging to our troops of anything that has happened so far. These attacks are quickly eroding whatever shred of trust our troops still had in humanity -- a fact that is not lost on the insurgents waging this evil battle. The experience of being purposely and maliciously fired upon by someone in a U.S. Army uniform, regardless of what they learn later about it actually having been an insurgent, makes an imprint on the brain that is very tough to undo. It festers suspicion and anxiety.

When this current group of service members rotates back home, and are eventually discharged out of the military, their ability to reintegrate into society will be incredibly compromised. They are being taught by these experiences that you cannot trust what you see and you cannot trust what you think you know. The world becomes an unmanageably unsafe place to live in with that as a premise.

This specific group, facing these specific circumstances, will come home even more traumatized and feel even more profoundly alienated than those in previous tours, and I fear that their torment, and subsequently their suicide rates, will be even higher because of that.


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I wish America would pay closer attention to this ghastly situation our troops are encountering and follow the example of suicide prevention that Massachusetts has put into practice. The effects will otherwise reverberate throughout our culture in insidious ways for decades to come.

ALISON LIGHTHALL

Lee

The writer is an MSN, RN and president of Hand2Hand Contact.