Suicide Prevention Week: NH expert focuses on veterans
Norton recently prepared a presentation to the congressional mental health caucus on suicide in the military.
“Did you know,” he said, “that half the (military) suicides are people who have not deployed?”
Another factor is the sudden shift from war zone to civilian life. World War II veterans returned home on ships, a trip that could take as long as 45 days and gave veterans an opportunity to decompress in the company of their comrades.
“He had been in Afghanistan 16 hours earlier,” said Norton.
While having the dog go to the bathroom on the rug may be a crisis for the person at home, it’s hard to see that when you are dealing with roadside bombs or a comrade who’s been severely wounded or killed.
He said he got a lot of grief when “military intimacy” was one of the slides he was preparing for a presentation to veterans. People told him it wouldn’t be politically correct. But Norton said the slide referred to “the intimacy they develop with combat buddies in their unit ... It’s lost when they return to civilian life.”
When veterans return, he said: “There are a lot of challenges around how they integrate.”
Older veterans are part of the group which has seen the sharpest increase in suicide in recent years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collects statistics on suicide and in the most recent period, 1999-2010, the greatest percentage increase — 40 percent — was in the 45-to-64 age group. The increase was greater than for any other age group, including youth and the elderly, the highest-risk groups.
Norton said the media coverage of Williams’ suicide showed an increased understanding of suicide and helped by talking about depression as an illness. When the symptoms are in remission, people are able to function, as witness Williams’ success.
Norton pointed out that talking about cancer was once taboo, but that’s changed. Research and treatment have resulted in more people surviving. The same thing can happen with depression and mental illness, Norton said.
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