Monday, November 10, 2008

General Breaks Silence on Mental Health

Tomorrow- 11/11= is Veterans Day. My father is a Veteran, as is one of my dearest friends. Rather than going shopping, take a minute to remember those who served and those who didn't come home so we can have our freedoms that so many in other countries do not have.

This from a newspaper yesterday.

General Breaks Cultural Silence on Mental Health

Saturday , November 08, 2008


It takes a brave soldier to do what Army Maj. Gen. David Blackledge did in Iraq.
It takes as much bravery to do what he did when he got home.

Blackledge got psychiatric counseling to deal with wartime trauma, and now he is defying the military's culture of silence on the subject of mental health problems and treatment.

"It's part of our profession ... nobody wants to admit that they've got a weakness in this area," Blackledge said of mental health problems among troops returning from America's two wars.

"I have dealt with it. I'm dealing with it now," said Blackledge, who came home with post-traumatic stress. "We need to be able to talk about it."

As the nation marks another Veterans Day, thousands of troops are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with anxiety, depression and other emotional problems.

Up to 20 percent of the more than 1.7 million who've served in the wars are estimated to have symptoms. In a sign of how tough it may be to change attitudes, roughly half of those who need help aren't seeking it, studies have found.

Despite efforts to reduce the stigma of getting treatment, officials say they fear generals and other senior leaders remain unwilling to go for help, much less talk about it, partly because they fear it will hurt chances for promotion.

That reluctance is also worrisome because it sends the wrong signal to younger officers and perpetuates the problem leaders are working to reverse.

"Stigma is a challenge," Army Secretary Pete Geren said Friday at a Pentagon news conference on troop health care. "It's a challenge in society in general. It's certainly a challenge in the culture of the Army, where we have a premium on strength, physically, mentally, emotionally."

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asked leaders earlier this year to set an example for all soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines: "You can't expect a private or a specialist to be willing to seek counseling when his or her captain or colonel or general won't do it."

Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, an Army psychiatrist heading the defense center for psychological health and traumatic brain injury, is developing a campaign in which people will tell their personal stories. Troops, their families and others also will share concerns and ideas through Web links and other programs. Blackledge volunteered to help, and next week he and his wife, Iwona, an Air Force nurse, will speak on the subject at a medical conference.

A two-star Army Reserve general, 54-year-old Blackledge commanded a civil affairs unit on two tours to Iraq, and now works in the Pentagon as Army assistant deputy chief of staff for mobilization and reserve issues.

His convoy was ambushed in February 2004, during his first deployment. In the event that he's since relived in flashbacks and recurring nightmares, Blackledge's interpreter was shot through the head, his vehicle rolled over several times and Blackledge crawled out of it with a crushed vertebrae and broken ribs. He found himself in the middle of a firefight, and he and other survivors took cover in a ditch.

He said he was visited by a psychiatrist within days after arriving at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. He had several sessions with the doctor over his 11 months of recovery and physical therapy for his injuries.

"He really helped me," Blackledge said. And that's his message to troops.

"I tell them that I've learned to deal with it," he said. "It's become part of who I am."

He still has bad dreams about once a week but no longer wakes from them in a sweat, and they are no longer as unsettling.

On his second tour to Iraq, Blackledge traveled to neighboring Jordan to work with local officials on Iraq border issues, and he was in an Amman hotel in November 2005 when suicide bombers attacked, killing some 60 and wounding hundreds.

Blackledge got a whiplash injury that took months to heal. The experience, including a harrowing escape from the chaotic scene, rekindled his post-traumatic stress symptoms, though they weren't as strong as those he'd suffered after the 2004 ambush.

Officials across the service branches have taken steps over the last year to make getting help easier and more discreet, such as embedding mental health teams into units.

They see signs that stigma has been slowly easing. But it's likely a change that will take generations.

Last year, 29 percent of troops with symptoms said they feared seeking help would hurt their careers, down from 34 percent the previous year, according to an Army survey. Nearly half feared they'd be seen as weak, down from 53 percent.

The majority of troops who get help are able to get better and to remain on the job.

Fox News, November 9, 2008


Nathan Hawks said...

Anything that helps bridge the gap between where those folks have been, and the rest of society, is a good idea.

Thanks for this good find, Susan.

Merelyme said...

this is a really excellent article. i cannot imagine doing what they do and not coming home with depression. thank you for sharing this susan.

Ana said...

"I tell them that I've learned to deal with it," he said. "It's become part of who I am."

This is a very good approach.
I just hope that the message he's passing don't get the wrong way: treating PTSD with an antidepressant, mood-stabilizer and a benzo.
This has been the official treatment psychiatry is offering.
Vietnam vets were seen as "war neurotics" and used to get talking therapy.
He said it all:
"It's become part of who I am."
Such a traumatic experience cannot be healed with pills.

Anonymous said...

Huge props to Maj. Gen. David Blackledge - talk about a man with vision and a desire to help others beyond his own suffering. That's impressive.

The secrecy surrounding mental illness ofcourse, spreads further than just the armed forces, however I can't imagine the sort of repression they deal with on a day to day basis.

Its inspiring to all people I think, not just other soldiers, to see someone who's meant to be so tough admit they need help and get the help they need.

PTSD is so much easier to handle with some therapy.

Katharine said...

This is a GREAT post, and I'm a huge fan of your blog. I came across it relatively recently - sometime around when the latest PsychCentral blog awards come out, although I don't remember if that's how I found you. Anyway, you've quickly become one of my favorite mental health blogs, and I read basically as many as I can get my hands on:-)

Having said that, I'd appreciate it (and I'm sure the authors/editors/blogosphere karma fairies or whatever, lol ) of the wonderful articles you share would really appreciate it if you were to link to the original source. Otherwise, it's technically plagiarism, and sort of goes against the collaborative spirit share but give credit where credit is due tone of the blogosphere.

I reaaalllly want to emphasize though how much I love your blog - in a standout one of my fav blogs kind of way! So please take my request as friendly from a loyal, enthusiastic reader.

Here's the link to the article in this post for starters: Hooray for links!

Keep blogging!

susan said...


I wish the HTML fairies would teach me how to hyperlink on my Mac.

I gotta learn this ASAP. I tried to use to tools with Blogger but they don't seem to work in Safari.

I will learn before I post another article again!

Thank you!!!

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