They Fight For Our Country: Their Mental Health Matters!


They Fight For Our Country: Their Mental Health Matters!
Depression, anxiety and stress occur everywhere. What's making things worse for our military?

The tragic shootings at Fort Hood put the media spotlight, once again, on mental health issues. The shooter may not have left sufficient clues around to his mental state, but clearly this was a very disturbed person who took the lives of three others as well as himself and injured many more. There have been other issues related to mental health that have focused on the military:the high incidence of rape, suicide, suicide attempts and domestic violence. One of the most significant recent findings was a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health which found that suicide risk (including attempts as well as completed suicides) was NOT higher in those who had been deployed. Half of those surveyed reported suicide attempts before they enlisted.

This leads me to think about who volunteers for the military during a time when we are at war. We have an all volunteer army so this is a self-selecting group. Not surprisingly, the studies show that rates of mental illness were much higher in enlisted personnel than in officers. Many who become officers are from families with a history of military service and the reason for joining is to continue the family tradition. Officers also have higher levels of education. This does not mean officers are immune from substance abuse, domestic violence or even suicide but the rates are much lower than the rates found in the enlisted cohort.


So who enlists? In recent times a recession with high unemployment rates will drive many to choose a military career who might not otherwise. The military remains one of the greatest equal opportunity employers with greater job security than civilian life, excellent family health benefits, educational opportunities and often housing subsidies. Access to military bases offers discounted shopping opportunity which adds to a low rate of base pay. But during the past 13 years, joining the military has also often meant a higher risk of deployment to very dangerous combat zones. Who wants to be a warrior? Probably people with a higher level of anger and aggressive tendencies to begin with. The study showed a higher than civilian rate of ADHD prior to enrollment which means greater impulsivity and excitability.

Marital instability is one of the highest risks for violence in all populations. In the military, where deployment means long periods of separation and base living uproots people from extended family support systems, the stress on relationships is high. The risk of suicide increases at the point of relationship breakups or divorce.

Who wants to go to war? Aggressive personalities and thrill seekers are those most attracted to military service outside of those who enlist out of financial necessity. Is there underlying psychological pathology or instability in those with that profile? It seems likely. Our American "heroes" and warriors only constitute 1% of the population. We want to be strong militarily as a country but perhaps we are taking as our warriors some of the most frail and vulnerable (speaking psychologically) among us. Then we place them in situations where they are separated from family and mainstream society, where substance abuse is widespread and exposure to extreme danger and trauma is likely. Under these circumstances, dangerous behavior outside of combat seem highly likely to me.

What needs to change?  Recruiters eager to make quotas don't want to look too closely at enlistees but perhaps we need to do more psychological screening. Is the budget for mental health personnel adequate? Is there a way to better protect the privacy and confidentiality of those who seek help? What can we do to encourage greater acceptance of the need for help. It is not enough to admire our military service personnel as heroes, we need to help them cope with the difficult challenges military service presents.

What can be done? If we continue with an all volunteer army then it seems we need to do more to support the mental health and safety of these troops. We spend 100's of billions on our military. There is little dispute over costs for the latest missiles, jets, electronics etc. but do we allocate enough for mental health? Clearly not.

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission.

More self-improvement advice on YourTango:

Article contributed by
Advanced Member

Dr Robin Goldstein


Dr. Goldstein is a licensed psychologist with over thirty years experience helping individuals free themselves of fear and anxiety and living their best life possible.She has worked extensively with couples, helping them maximize the potential for joy in their relationships as well as working with people suffering the grief of separtion, divorce and loss from ones they love.


Please visit my blog at

Follow Dr Goldstein on Twitter at

Location: Boca Raton, FL
Credentials: EdD
Other Articles/News by Dr Robin Goldstein:

The Right to Die: A Healthy Choice?


Brittany Maynard chose assisted suicide The plight of Brittany Maynard and her articulate YouTube video have focused a great deal of attention on the question of the "right to die." This well educated, happily married and attractive 29 year old raised public awareness by using modern media to communicate her wishes and to advocate for her position ... Read more

Are You a Trophy Wife? Look Out For These Signs


It's the Cinderella story. You marry the man of your dreams and he's a prince, otherwise known as rich enough to support you so that you don't need to work for a living and can spend your life eating bonbons and living a life of leisure. Is this fairy tale all it's cracked up to be? Not necessarily. What are the downsides? There are ... Read more

How To Talk To Your Psychiatrist About Your Depression


How to Talk to Your Psychiatrist About Depression I am a psychologist. I am a doctor but not a medical doctor and I provide psychotherapy, not medication. Still, I refer many patients with depression to MD psychiatrists to provide medication to help with depression. Modern anti-depressants can truly be life saving medications. While many (mistakenly, I ... Read more

See More

Latest Expert Videos
Must-see Videos
Most Popular