The suicide rate amongst members of today’s U.S. Army is higher than that of our country’s civilian population. In the twelve months ending 9/30/09, there were a record 160 active-duty Army suicides. Most interesting is that 79% of these events occurred among soldiers with one or no deployments meaning that the Afghan and Iraqi Wars cannot be blamed for the trend. In fact, according to the report released on July 29th by the Pentagon, “We are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy.”
That’s why it was such good news to learn this Wednesday that the Army is recommending the use of mindfulness techniques with its troops to manage the unique stressors they face. Major Victor Won, Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, said that it would be more effective for soldiers to learn and train in mindfulness prior to deployment, as the practice will offer them a means to cope with their mental stress before getting into a high-stress environment. Additionally, University of Penn researchers (with the support of the Army) is examining the effects of mindfulness as a means to deal with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
To be clear, the dizzying pace of increased deployments has brought about relaxed recruiting standards. This, in turn, has increased the enlistment of those with a history of drug and alcohol abuse. The Army’s leadership has turned a blind eye to those most in need of stress management and mental health assistance, in general. To identify the perpetrator of this disturbing and growing trend, the Army only needs to look in the mirror.
However, the Army’s addition of mindfulness as a stress-management tool will be a significant event that will inevitably lead to more stable behaviors and emotions for the men and women around the world who have volunteered to be placed in situations more stressful than most of us can imagine. What an amazing distance we have come to find mindful practice can be in the same conversation with the U.S. Armed Forces. Major Won and his staff should be commended for their open-mindedness as they consider options with which to fight the epidemic growing within their own ranks.