The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began more than seven years ago, and while the media has reported deaths, perceptions linger that the biggest battles are metaphorically behind us.
However, there is a factor that hasn’t been widely publicized and contributes to a side of the war that we are just starting to fight. A problem some soldiers face is beginning to receive more attention at home. In the past, it led many of them to experiment with drugs to cope.
The problem is depression and the resulting suicides that occur when it goes untreated. The Marine Corps has a higher suicide rate than other military branches, and those numbers are only increasing. Last year produced a record 164 attempted suicides in the Marines, and 89 have tried to take their lives so far this year, according to USA Today.
This happened despite a suicide prevention program introduced last year. The Army and the National Institute of Mental Health began a five-year, $50 million program to research the causes of military suicides.
Navy Cmdr. Aaron Werbel, head of the Marine Corps suicide prevention program, said to the USA Today that improvements in the ability to track attempted suicides may be contributing to the record numbers.
One could imagine before such improvements that it would have been easy to blame deaths on enemy fire or accidents.
A stigma remains in the military against mental illness and perceptions of weakness. Werbel said to the San Diego Union-Tribune that the program is trying to make “suicide prevention organic to the culture of the Marine Corps, so it is not seen as some touchy-feely different thing.”
It may be an issue of pride and honor for those in the military to avoid seeking help for fear of hurting their career as well as their image. A majority of Marine suicides were committed by soldiers 17 to 24 years old, which prompted the Marines to create a new program, called “Never Leave a Marine Behind,” aimed at helping Marines understand stress and depression, according to the Union-Tribune.
With the high number of military suicides, it begs the question, is it really worth having troops in combat if so many of them will die by their own hands? After such a high number of Marine suicide attempts already this year, the total number for this year may reach 210, according to USA Today, which will shatter last year’s somber record.
With numbers this dire, it seems like keeping troops in the Middle East is like cutting off our nose to spite our face. This war is too dangerous for our soldiers’ mental health.
Andrea Cunniffe is a junior majoring in psychology.