Winnie the Pooh’s little down trodden donkey was certainly suffering from some hard core depression. He was slow to move and always unsure of himself. The only thing a veteran might have in common with the donkey is the internal struggle. We are fast to move and often time too sure of ourselves. We dwell on things for only fractions of a second before moving to the next target or mission. The difference and the problem are one in the same. Eeyore was able to sit back and introspect, figure out what was making him feel that way, able to rationalize, able to appropriately address the issue. He also only had that one emotion. We as veterans find that the depression junk is at the bottom while whats on the surface can be any spectrum of that emotion. It can be rage, anger, silence, being hyper, overly happy, thrill-seeking, promiscuity rarely is it your overt signs and symptoms of depression. Interestingly enough, most of the times someone commits suicide it is attributed to depression not any of the other signs. Leaders often times blame themselves for missing the signs, they go back and look for those tail tale signs of a suicidal person. Strange thing is, you sometimes don’t find them. In my experience we found the other reactions, quick to anger, abnormal behavior, overly happy (upon further examination fake). With the ability to arm chair general it, you see that those were obvious signs had we just noticed, but why would you? The guy was happy or hyper or in a bad mood. Another big issue is that the cry for help in the army doesn’t often exist, we are self-reliant and embrace the suck. But one of our greatest attributes has quickly become the military’s Achilles heel. Our people push to hard until the break alone in a room with bad intentions and devastatingly efficient results. It is never a good thing when a trained killer decides to end their life, they often do not fail. So how do we combat it, with knowledge, with intelligence, and with bit of reality.
This is just my humble opinion, but this is what I think would work for the ones that are still in. While yes it is good to have an involved chain of command, it is more important that the individual feel free to get help. Essentially an amnesty box, for a the combat veterans mind. An offsite facility where the veteran is assessed by not just a mental health professional but trained combat veterans who are taught to be mentors. The vet gets asked the tough questions and they figure out if he is an immediate danger to himself, if he is, then the bells and whistles go off and he or she are dropped into a place where it feels like a safe environment for them but where its safe for themselves to be there. If not, then they get issued their veteran mentor, their battle buddy for lack of a better term, what would be even better is if these guys were graduates of the program or at least on the rebound. The guy that’s been there, ready to shut up and listen. All the while none of this goes to the chain of command unless it is necessary, unless they are a danger to soldiers, unless they are a threat to themselves. While this brings an immediate worry about having leaders in a compromised position, if you believe for a second that a junior trooper is unaware that their leadership is struggling then you missed something during your time in the military. Troopers are more attuned to the leadership than the leadership is to the troopers.
This idea would allow for amnesty, no judgement, just a simple process, they assess you, they ask you how best to treat you (counsel, coach, medicate, or just allow you to observe others), they make their recommendation, together the veteran and care team figure out the treatment plan. Before they go home or back to the unit, they are given the list of numbers to call and then meet in person the first few on the chain. They are suggested, instructed, and ordered to call when things get too heavy and a body will find its way to his doorstep to tap the forward assist or remove the temptation of eating a bullet. Then they do the group stuff it helps or they are taught to write it out or taught to exercise it out. They are taught the simple tools to fix themselves, simple mental first aid. How is this some revolutionary idea? why is this not in place already? Who knows, but I wish it was when I went through it.
So Eeyore is a jackass, so is the veteran that fails to get help, more so the leader that admonishes the ones that do. The real jackass, is the powers that be that fail to see keeping the course is only going to stack the bodies. But hey I am just one veteran who has a hard time shutting his mouth.