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The Military Suicide Epidemic

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Possible Causes of The Military Suicide Epidemic

Erosion of Protective Factors

There are 3 protective factors to prevent suicide:

1. Belongingness:
The cohesion and camaraderie of a military unit can induce intense feelings of belonging for many service members. Time away from the unit, however, may result in a reduced or thwarted sense of belonging, as individuals no longer have the daily support of their units and feel separate and different from civilians. This is especially true for Guardsmen and Reservists.

2. Usefulness:
The responsibility inherent in military service, the importance of tasks assigned to relatively junior personnel and the high level of interaction among unit members establish the importance and usefulness of each unit member, particularly in an operational environment. In contrast, the experience of living in a garrison environment (for active component personnel) or returning to a civilian job (for Guardsmen, Reservists and veterans) or, worse, unemployment, can introduce feelings of uselessness.

3. Aversion to pain or death
Repeated exposure to military training as well as
to violence, aggression and death dulls one’s fear of death and increases tolerance for pain. Thus, the very experience of being in the military erodes this protective factor, even for service members who have not deployed or experienced combat, in part because service members experience pain and discomfort from the beginning of their training.

Erosion of moral certainty

Moral injury: “damage to your deeply held beliefs about right and wrong. It might be caused by something that you do or fail to do, or by something that is done to you – but either way it breaks that sense of moral certainty.”

• Failing to protect their ‘brothers’
• Friendly fire
• Deaths of civilians, particularly women and children
• Discharged from the military

It is not the fear and the terror that service members endure in the battlefield that inflicts most psychological damage, Nash has concluded, but feelings of shame and guilt related to the moral injuries they suffer.

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