If you think a soldier only has to worry about losing their life in the battlefield—think again.
Many soldiers are taking their own lives during their basic training boot camps, before they are even deployed for duty.
Kenneth Bowen, who served in the Marines, discussed the intensity of boot camp.
“Boot camp is very intense. There is a lot of pressure to graduate, and there are a lot of things that can make a recruit not graduate. It is very demanding both physically and mentally.”
In boot camp, if a recruit expresses the need for psychiatric help, they are often stigmatized for doing so.
Bowen says that when he was in training, a recruit was put on “shadow watch” early on. He says shadow watch is when a recruit is monitored 24 hours a day to make sure that they do not attempt to harm themselves.
“The recruit being watched was usually heckled for trying to quit or get out of training by other recruits,” Bowen says.
If soldiers do not feel that they can come forward about mental health issues without being harassed, many soldiers who need help will not seek it. Recruits in boot camp need to feel that requests for psychiatric help will be taken seriously if boot camp suicides are to decline.
An article from The Daily Beast says that the U.S. Army had previously made suicidal soldiers wear orange vests as a symbol of their depression. Humiliation can hardly be considered a proper method for helping soldiers who are struggling with depression.
It is clear that changes need to be made within the military to help reduce the risk of suicides in boot camp. A possible solution that may be proposed is reducing the intensity of basic training. However, this could yield disastrous results.
The intensity level of training in the military is necessary to prepare soldiers for situations they may face in deployment.
Bowen says: “I think that Marine Corps boot camp needs to be intense. Combat is very intense, perhaps nothing else can compare to its intensity. The training of our military needs to resemble that stress and intensity to the best of its abilities.”
If the intensity level of training was reduced, soldiers might be severely unprepared for combat.
A better solution to fight suicide rates in the military would be to make sure that the people who sign up to serve are mentally stable enough to handle the intensity of both training and combat.
“I think there should be a more thorough process to test the psychological demeanor of our men and women before they are sent to boot camp or training,” Bowen says.
According to this document from The National Academies Press, there is only one question on the medical health screening form for recruits that concerns psychological health, and that question simply asks a recruit if they have received inpatient or outpatient psychological counseling for any reason from any mental health professional.
Every recruit should have to sit down with a mental health professional before being sent to boot camp and receive a complete, thorough assessment of their mental state.
Also, practices for treating suicidal soldiers should be less threatening and soldiers who seek psychological help should not be stigmatized, especially by fellow soldiers and military personnel.
The elimination of stigma on suicidal soldiers needs to start with “higher-ups.” When a soldier comes to their superior and expresses the need for psychological help, the leader needs to be accepting of their request. The man or woman in charge needs to show fellow recruits that mental health issues are taken seriously and needs to spread the idea that making a joke of them will not be tolerated.
The mental state of a soldier and their reason for seeking help should be kept as private as possible. There is no need to advertise that a soldier is seeking psychological help or to make an example out of them. If a recruit knows that their request for help will be kept confidential to the greatest degree possible, they will be more willing to admit to a superior that they need help.
It appears that the military has a long road ahead in preventing suicides among their soldiers. We can only hope that the men and women who have already taken their lives is enough of a wake-up call to the military that change is crucial.