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Soldiers telling PTSD stories will decrease treatment stigma

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Sept. 30, 2009) -- It will take Soldiers telling about their successful treatment of post traumatic stress disorder to begin breaking down the stigma that prevents other troops from seeking care, said Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire.

During a panel presentation called "Surviving and Thriving in Harm's Way," Sept. 25 at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., McGuire spoke about suicide, PTSD, and the social stigma that prevents Soldiers with PTSD from stepping forward to get treated. The general serves as director of the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force.

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"Soldiers are going to wait until somebody tells their story -- who is still in the Army -- and then watch their progression and their career to see what happens with them," she told presentation attendees. "They are going to want to see if what you are telling them is real. And until we turn that around, it is going to be awhile, and we have to be consistent in the message that stigma is ignorance."

Suicide can be the result of PTSD, and McGuire said the Army has experienced a rise in the number of suicides. She said traditionally, the Army is below a comparable civilian segment of the population for suicides. And while the most recent Center for Disease Control studies available for suicide in the civilian population is from 2006, McGuire said she believes the Army has now exceeded the civilian population.

"Unless they exponentially increased, hugely, we have now surpassed what is expected out there in the community," she said.

Still McGuire said, America has a resilient Army. Last year, about 140 Soldiers committed Suicide, out of a population of 700,000 Soldiers.

"When you look at the number of Soldiers that committed suicide given the population ... we have a resilient Army, we have a strong Army," she said, adding there is another set of Soldiers -- those engaging in risky behavior -- that goes unknown.

"I don't know the number in between -- those engaged in risky behavior that may be accumulating over time, the alcohol, the infidelities ... even sleep deprivation is a risky behavior that compounded over time could result in suicide."

McGuire said she hopes that eventually Soldier culture will change to allow Soldiers to seek out the help they need, and for Soldiers to develop and emphasize mental fitness within the Army in the same way they develop physical fitness.

"That is the approach we need to take in dealing with this," she said.

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