After Megan’s and Nathan’s sweet moment in the fire station parking lot, they respond to a call for a suicide. In the room is a collection of military memorabilia, including a black beret with a blue flash. This beret is only worn by Army Special Forces, and though Megan did not know that, Nathan certainly recognized it. What she did recognize were the Afghanistan Campaign ribbons that matched the ones on Nathan’s wall.
This scene first introduces the concept of veteran suicide. Many people are aware of the campaign for veteran suicide awareness: “22 a day.” It’s important, though, to examine the concept in a more critical and nuanced light.
The idea that shines through with 22 a Day is that 22 military veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are committing suicide every day. This is a powerful campaign. 22 is specific, and the specificity spurs action.
But the study that arrived at that number had several caveats: 1) suicide is difficult to study and numbers may not be reliable, 2) most of the those they studied who had committed suicide were too old to have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, that number is closer to 1 per day.
1 per day is still too many, and the entire concept has benefitted from the success of the campaign. But there is a downside to that success, especially for young veterans (of whom the numbers never even applied). This is the problem of “too much” awareness of mental health issues, such that all veterans are colored with the same brush.
While some veterans do struggle with mental health, PTSD, and suicidal ideation, most do not. Yet this is the concept that often reaches the mind when we consider returning soldiers. Oftentimes, returning veterans then must face discrimination in social and occupational contexts because of that narration.
We then must maintain a balance. Mental health is important. Military PTSD and suicide is something to be studied and those individual affected should be supported without stigma. But at the same time, it does not benefit those who need support to stretch the concept wider than it is. Most soldiers return and integrate into society without problems. Most do not have mental health issues, PTSD, or suicidal ideations.
All veterans are valuable members of society and deserve to be understood, even when the concepts are complex and nuanced.