By Debbie Gregory.
Studies conducted by the VA estimate that approximately 22 Veterans commit suicide each day. These numbers are a direct result of Veterans suffering from mental and emotional disorders that include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Veterans who feel hopeless in their struggle tend to resort to suicide. These figures are alarmingly high. And unfortunately, the number of Veteran suicides is rising. Male Veterans under the age of 30 recently saw a 44% increase.
Suicide among Veterans is not new a phenomenon, unique to the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) generation. There are examples of Veteran struggles that are frequently found in classic literature. Nearly all of the characters written by author and WWI Veteran Ernest Hemingway can be interpreted as exhibiting a mental or emotional difficulty, most likely related to the characters’ and the author’s wartime experiences. Fictional WWI Veterans Jay Gatsby and Nick Carroway in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, both exhibited traits that implied difficulty transitioning into civilian life. There is also famously imitated scene in Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella, Heart of Darkness, where the dying antagonist, Mr. Kurtz whispers, “The horror! The horror!” This can easily be interpreted as an episode of PTSD. One could even argue that the great Odysseus took so long to return home to Ithaca, in ancient Greece, because he was not ready to transition to a post-war life after the Trojan War.
It is apparent to those who read these classics today that there were serious behavioral disorders among the characters and authors. It is not surprising that Hemingway and Fitzgerald were both famous for their alcoholism. Fitzgerald’s drinking contributed to his poor health, which resulted in his dying of a heart attack at age 44. Hemingway committed suicide in 1961, and Conrad attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest in 1878.
The point that this lesson in history and literature is making is that all generations of Veterans have faced some serious struggles when they returned home. But there are two key differences between GWOT Veterans and previous generations. First, today’s Veterans are the most informed generation to date. The emotional and mental dangers that Veterans risk encountering are not hidden, but widely publicized. GWOT Veterans are also encouraged to talk about their ailments and make them known, unlike previous generations.
Along with the awareness of behavioral medicine, today’s Veterans have the ability to seek treatment for their disorders. Other generations did not have this opportunity. The VA has determined that approximately only five of the 22 daily Veteran suicides are from Veterans who were being treated for their ailments. While still in need of improvement, this statistic is proof that seeking help does improve the survival rate for Veterans suffering from mental or emotional disorders.
If you or a Veteran you know is having trouble transitioning into civilian life, please seek help or assistance with the VA, or any number of local Veterans groups. The VA’s Crisis Line is (800) 273- 8255.