Soldiers are experiencing better mental health with their withdrawal from Afghanistan imminent. There are approximately 34,000 troops in the country, as opposed to 100,000 in 2011. An Army mental health study was published this week which showed that overall there is less anxiety and depression, along with a reduced suicide incidence for soldiers in Afghanistan finishing up their tours of duty. The number of suicides was reduced by 19 percent in 2013.
The Army scientists worked in combat zones with almost 900 soldiers on an anonymous basis. When measured for acute stress symptoms, 8.5 percent of the participants qualified, compared with 11.2 percent in 2012 and 14.9 percent in 2010. 20.2 percent reported that they had a high or very high morale, which was increased by 4 percent from 2010.
In six years the number of American casualties during operations was the lowest in 2013. The Associated Press reported a drop in deaths from 297 in 2012 to 118 in 2013. The number of Afghan security forces casualties has, at the same time, gone up, as they take over military campaigns against the Taliban.
A lack of sleep continues to be a factor in how soldiers view the ability to accomplish their tasks. 25 percent of the soldiers studied were concerned about their insufficient sleep patterns. They were worried that the lack of rest is affecting their decision-making processes and physical capacity to withstand the pressures of war.
Nonetheless, soldiers are experiencing better mental health overall due to their soon-to-be withdrawal from Afghanistan. Troops are becoming less likely to want to harm themselves or others at this point in the conflict.
The biggest challenge for those affected negatively by the war in Afghanistan is that nearly half of the soldiers who participated in the Army study said that although they needed mental health treatment, they would not seek it because of the stigma of weakness that is placed upon getting such assistance. This perspective on psychological treatments has been a part of the soldier’s life for a long time and has not yet been influenced by the Army’s efforts to make it a more normal and necessary way of military life.
It has also been reported that the more tours on which a soldier has been deployed, the more likely he or she will be affected with mental illness. There have been five deployments since 2003, and some soldiers have gone on as many as four of those deployments during the eight years that they have been on active duty.
Back in 2012, Sgt. 1st Class, Joseph Aiello, was interviewed about his nine years of serving in Afghanistan. “It definitely takes a toll on family,” Aiello said, “The minute you lose focus that’s when incidents can start to happen.” Aiello explained that when he puts his mind on his family instead of staying on task, it tends to allow dangerous elements to enter into the operation.
Aiello also believes that the wives of those deployed are making just as many sacrifices as any of the fighters in Afghanistan. For Aiello’s wife, it is the day after day challenges of being a single, working mother with children who need her just as much as the wounded vets she treats in her physical therapy practice. Her contribution to the war effort is appreciated by her soldier husband.
Soldiers are experiencing improved mental health during this time of the winding down of the war in Afghanistan. The final push is for those soldiers who are in need of mental health treatment to have the personal courage and the support to accept the help being offered.
By Lisa M Pickering
The Town Talk