The LA Times (TW on the link for explicit descriptions of psychotic breaks) has found that the US army troops are more and more medicated with prescription psychiatric drugs.
After two long-running wars with escalating levels of combat stress, more than 110,000 active-duty Army troops last year were taking prescribed antidepressants, narcotics, sedatives, antipsychotics and anti-anxiety drugs, according to figures recently disclosed to The Times by the U.S. Army surgeon general. Nearly 8% of the active-duty Army is now on sedatives and more than 6% is on antidepressants — an eightfold increase since 2005.
“We have never medicated our troops to the extent we are doing now…. And I don’t believe the current increase in suicides and homicides in the military is a coincidence,” said Bart Billings, a former military psychologist who hosts an annual conference on combat stress.
I support 100% the use of medically necessary psychiatric medications: I know lots of people who have had their lives saved by them. However, an eightfold increase in the use of antidepressant medications points to a problem.
War is incredibly stressful on the mind: the rate of PTSD among returning soldiers is enough to testify to that. All other things being equal, it’s a definite improvement that soldiers are getting treatment for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other potential consequences of war. However, the problem comes when the treatment is inadequate. When on combat deployment it’s difficult for soldiers to even get a followup appointment with their psychiatrist, much less go to therapy once or twice a week. It becomes very tempting for the military, as a whole, to rely on handfuls of those magic little pills.
Until it ends in delusions or depression, suicide or homicide…
Even in the civilian world, people regularly get their drugs and dosages adjusted because of side effects or increased tolerance. In the military, a lot of times, there’s nothing to do but endure the side effects. And if your tolerance increases, you can just take more of the pills– not under the supervision of a psychiatrist. Soldiers are regularly sent out with half a year’s worth of pills and often trade them among each other, so it is not like they don’t have access.
I do think this is a gendered issue. The military is no longer a male-only space, but it is still a heavily masculine space. There is still the pressure– on both men and women!– to “man up,” to tough it out, to endure. In addition to issues of access to therapy and psychiatry instead of just meds, there are issues of culture. Right now, the military has a culture where it is more acceptable to take pills than it is to admit to weakness. And that is not okay.