Camp Atterbury is to be commended for increased efforts to assist soldiers facing emotional and psychological challenges.
The base has beefed up its staff of licensed clinical social workers in recent years to address growing mental health challenges faced by soldiers and to accommodate the growing numbers of people training at the military installation near Edinburgh.
That seven-person mental health team is important, especially at a time when suicides are surging among America’s troops, averaging nearly one a day this year — the fastest pace in the nation’s decade of war.
The 154 suicides of active-duty troops in the first five months this year far outpaced the number of U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan — about 50 percent more — according to Pentagon statistics obtained by The Associated Press.
Camp Atterbury’s mental health team treats about two soldiers a week who could be at risk for suicide, said Dr. Marsha Rockey, a licensed psychologist who is Atterbury’s lead mental health clinician. That number has remained steady since 2008, she added.
Rockey, three licensed clinical social workers, one psychiatric nurse practitioner and two U.S. Army behavioral health technicians comprise the team.
All soldiers receive annual training in suicide prevention, Rockey said, such as recognizing warning signs and knowing what to do.
The team has its own building and clinic and is open Monday through Friday. Soldiers can come by themselves or be brought by commanding officers, fellow soldiers or family members.
“People are concerned about comments made, mood changes and behavioral changes,” Rockey said.
One team member conducts an initial interview to understand the soldier’s thoughts and feelings. Information also is sought about the soldier’s support network. The purpose of the interview, she said, is to assess the seriousness of the risk and determine the best course of treatment.
Some soldiers might be treated on an outpatient basis or with medication. Others might need to be admitted to an inpatient program.
The suicide numbers reflect a military burdened by wartime demands from Iraq and Afghanistan that have taken a greater toll than foreseen a decade ago. The military also is struggling with increases in sexual assaults, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and other misbehavior.
The reasons for the increase are not fully understood. Among explanations, studies have pointed to combat exposure, post-traumatic stress, misuse of prescription medications and personal financial problems. Army data suggest soldiers with multiple combat tours are at greater risk of committing suicide, although a substantial proportion of Army suicides are committed by soldiers who never deployed.
The stress of repeated deployments is incalculable, and for military personnel to survive the battlefield only to take their lives later is doubly tragic.
We support Camp Atterbury’s efforts to identify and treat soldiers who face emotional and psychological pressures that the rest of us cannot even imagine.
We also urge families and friends to be aware of changes in soldiers and former soldiers and steer them in the direction of the help they need and deserve.
It would be one more way of sincerely saying thanks for their service.
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