There is an epidemic of suicide among active duty military and recent veterans, it’s been going for a couple of years now, and no one has any clear idea what the cause might be. That is, clear enough to be useful for dealing with the problem; everyone has some idea that nearly ten years of war with so small a force that it requires multiple deployments of the same people, that this deployment schedule grinds up families and destroys lives, that jobs are next to impossible for returnees to find in an economy that has had the equity mined out of it for the last couple of decade; that all that is sooner or later going to send a really big social bill.
There is not only a gender element to this suicide epidemic and to the lack of a sense of urgency in the general public over it – male suicide is a big yawn for most people – there is also a class aspect to it. The military generally draws from demographic that are not centers of voting power, unless they are being manipulated on abortion or guns or whatever, or are on the screen of opinion-makers.
I heard some general say this morning on NPR that in 28 years of active service he has never faced any situation or opponent so intractable as the suicide epidemic. And I don’t have much to add to that.
The other day I saw where active duty soldiers’ suicides in July more than doubled over July this year. In fact suicide is within reach of outnumbering combat deaths.
So now the Army is looking at a nasal spray that gets thyrotrophin to the brain. Apparently it has some role in the regulation of emotions. The spray form is necessary because the brain picks the hormone up very poorly if it is delivered in other forms.
Then the day before that I noticed this article on the role of a common parasite in suicides and suicide attempts.Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite implicated in an increased risk of suicide or attempted suicide in pregnant women. It’s a common parasite in humans, about a fifth of the US population harbors it, and it has been linked to changes in the brain associated with suicide attempts. Toxoplasmosis is implicated in a whole range of of neural neurological troubles – ADHD, OCD, schizophrenia and even brain cancer. One study showed that if you tested positive for the parasite, you were seven times likelier to attempt suicide than if not. Apparently this is true only for specific strains of the parasite; other strains cause other effects.
Synchronicity is the only connection between any of these. I don’t have much to offer in the fight against the military suicide epidemic other than to help get the word out.
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