Shine, Perishing Republic

November 6, 2009

I’m sure that today’s headlines will mature into fodder for tomorrow’s brilliant Woody Allen film-cum-social commentary on love and happiness within the larger misery of the human condition –I mean, I can picture the scene where Cate Blanchett, impersonating Woody Allen, throws her hands in the air while exasperatedly pondering the absurdity of an American military psychiatrist opening fire on a crowd of U.S. servicepeople, killing a dozen and injuring scores more. How do these things happen? How are we supposed to receive, process, and reflect this information with our subsequent behavior, our ability to keep going and to find meaning in the broken world that surrounds us? Somehow methinks Cate Blanchett’s character will learn to love in the end, will accept the yin with the yang, will realize that for every violently deranged gunman, there are a hundred sensitive, kindly bloggers out there trying to make the world a better place. But meanwhile, back here in non-movieland, the forces that be continue to tiptoe around the fact that military suicide rates are climbing, and active and veteran servicepeople are at substantially higher risk for committing suicide than civilians (Kuehn, 2009, JAMA, 301(11), 1111-1113). As per violence, even the DOD admits that domestic violence against spouses of servicepeople is “a problem.” Unfortunately, data on rates of military suicide, homicide and other noncombat-related violence is hard to come by: searching CDC, NIH, PubMed, PsycheInfom, CINAHL and PMC databases didn’t yield much. Kuehn (cited above) determined suicide rates by extracting data from general CDC surveillence reports. I couldn’t find anything specific to the military. If you’ve got a source, lemme know!

Mental health is a hot topic for military PR right now, and the rising rates of active-duty and veteran violence and suicide has them Army boys sittin’ around scratchin’ their balls asking, “why?” That’s right. The NIH, the Army, and $50 million in taxpayer money are teaming up to investigate why soldiers commit suicide!!! Don’t get me wrong: I theoretically support suicide research and figuirng out why it happens. But in the case of  young men and women participating in and subjected to extreme violence, I think the answer is a little bit self-evident. Still, okay, okay, it’s good to study factors that protect servicepeople against suicide, because if we know what the protective factors are, we can keep asking “non-suicidal” people in the service to do our dirty work in intolerable environments without worrying that they’ll just kill themselves first. Ok, maybe that’s pessimistic of me. Maybe we’ll use the knowledge to screen for mental illness and treat suicidal ideation, or change military policy to accomodate those prone to suicide or mental illness (uh, yeah right). Or we can pile “protective factors” onto those at risk for suicidal ideation. Like how some of the first meth addicts were military pilots who were given meth in order to protect them against combat fatigue.

Today’s other headlines weren’t the counterbalancing pick-me-ups I’d hoped they’d be. Anti-abortion, anti-immigrant democrats (forgive my extreme ignorance, but I didn’t know there was such a creature) may jeopardize health reform, and H1N1 vaccines magically reached Wall Street before other needy clinics. Hey, you people who think the “honor system” is alive and well in the medical industry: I have already seen H1N1 vaccine go to members of non-priortitized groups, because someone asked nicely or somebody knew somebody or somebody was a VIP or whatever. I have objected, but some providers seem to be of the opinion that a little bit off the top won’t hurt. My most esteemed government, next time you can keep your honor system and instead hold providers accountable for each and every dose of vaccine you ship to them.

FYI: Hoarding of the swine flu vaccine isn’t just a domestic issue. It’s projected that there will be about a billion doses for the world’s six billion people.

Looking at today’s headlines makes me shake my head, and I can only borrow the thought of a visionary born a century before me (no, not Woody Allen): Shine, perishing republic.