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Military Suicide Rates Double; Army Responds with Nasal Spray

I’ve been sitting, looking at this blank text box, for 20 minutes.

I just … don’t even know what to say. Mind clouded with rage.

From Katie Drummond at The Daily:

Suicide among American troops has increased steadily since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In July, the number of suicides among active-duty soldiers reached 26 — more than double the number in June and the highest for any month since the Army began keeping such statistics.

The Pentagon reported in June that suicides among soldiers have averaged one per day this year, an 18 percent increase in suicides during the same period last year, and have now surpassed the rate of combat fatalities.

That’s right: more soldiers die by their own hand than in combat.

“Suicide is the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the Army,” Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the Army’s vice chief of staff, said this week in announcing new suicide numbers. Austin is spearheading his service’s efforts to find ways to halt the surge in suicides.

“That said, I do believe suicide is preventable,” Austin added. “To combat it effectively will require sophisticated solutions aimed at helping individuals to build resiliency and strengthen their life coping skills.”

Strengthen their life coping skills?

Here’s a life coping skill:

From Penn State Special Collections Library

But no, the military shuttles in medication and science (including the science of mindfulness, by the way) to keep soldiers alive enough to fuel the war machine.

“We’ve known since the 1970s that TRH has antidepressant effects, and it works quite rapidly,” Kubek, whose work has been instrumental in uncovering how TRH impacts the brain, told The Daily. “The bottom-line problem has been figuring out how to get it into the brain.”

Earlier trials of TRH already showed that boosting an individual’s levels can quickly decrease suicidal ideas, depression and bipolar disorders. But doctors have until now relied on spinal taps to dose patients — because TRH can’t cross the blood-brain barrier by more traditional methods, like pills or injections.

By harnessing new advancements in nanotechnology, however, Kubek’s research team has now devised nanoparticle drug-delivery systems, designed to dissolve over time inside the brain, that can safely usher TRH across the blood-brain barrier when inserted into the human nasal cavity.

Well, a nasal spray does sound preferable to a spinal tap.

But preferable to either, in my eyes, is organizing like Operation: Recovery, by Iraq Veterans Against The War, that actually link the traumatic effects of war with efforts toward demilitarization.

Let me be clear: I’m not trying to bash anti-depressant medication. For many people, it can be positive and life-saving. This is not about individual mental health choices (after all, the individual choices of soldiers are severely limited in many fundamental ways), but rather the fact that, as Robert Aitkin Roshi used to say, The System Stinks.

What does it mean when our society’s research and development in healing goes toward keeping people fit enough to kill (or be killed)? And not just any people: poor people. Working-class people. Disproportionately black and brown people. Lately, openly gay people.

What does it mean that the $3 million research grant for this nasal spray came from the military budget, which in turn comes from taxpayers? If we are taxpayers, how do we understand our connection to this longstanding and evolving phenomenon of, pardon my bluntness, drugging soldiers out of suicide?

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Top photo via US Air Force.

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