Attrition: Suicide Central


May 4, 2011: The Indian Army is suffering an epidemic of suicides among its troops stationed in Kashmir. For the last few years the suicide rate there has been over 100 per 100,000 troops per year. The suicide rate in the Indian civilian population (nationwide) is about 11 per 100,000. The reasons for the high rate among troops in Kashmir has much to do with the two decade old Islamic terror campaign going on there. This conflict, which has greatly diminished in the last few years, has killed over 50,000 people since the 1990s. The majority Moslem population up there is still hostile to Indian troops and police. Then there's the weather. Kashmir has a more temperate climate (and lots of snow in the Winter). This comes as a bit of a shock to most Indian troops, who come from the generally tropical south (most of India has never experienced snow). Still, the suicide rate for troops in Kashmir is more than three times the next highest rate (about 33 in the Russian Army).

The U.S. military has also been suffering a growth in stress-related suicides. For the combat troops. Army, the suicide rate has gone from 9 per 100,000 troops in 2001, to 24 for the marines and 22 for the army last year. When adjusted for age, gender and so on, the rate for civilian counterparts to soldiers and marines is about 19 per 100,000. Normally, the rates for military personnel are lower, because recruiters select people who are better able to handle stress. The air force and navy have not had nearly as many personnel in the combat zones and their suicide rates are lower (at 15.5 and 13.3 respectively)

The less noticed indicator, which impacts a lot more people, is the use of anti-stress medications. These have gone up, for the army, 76 percent since 2001. About 17 percent of all soldiers now take these drugs, including six percent of those in combat zones. In 2001, the troops used these drugs to about the same degree as the civilian population (ten percent.) The impact of these drugs, especially in combination, can be unpredictable. The army is still waiting to see how this increased use of anti-stress medications will play out. This is all unknown territory, and the marines are seeing the same problems as the army. India cannot afford many of these anti-stress medications, and is trying to use more affordable methods (like counseling, or cheaper drugs).

Indian troops are basically suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which is common among those dealing with terrorists and hostile populations. Many of these stressed troops are no longer able to perform all their duties. This is sometimes the case with troops taking anti-stress drugs. Some of these medications slow you down, which can be fatal if you find yourself in combat, or any emergency situation. Many troops on these medications are no longer sent overseas. Mainly because they can perform well back in the United States, but the medication side effects complicate the job of finding enough troops to go to combat zones.

Stressed out Indian troops don't always kill themselves, increasingly, they kill fellow soldiers, or civilians that anger them. India is seeking cures for these problems, including keeping troops in Kashmir for shorter periods, and more effort to identify those who are the most stressed out (so they can be treated.) But moving troop units in and out of Kashmir is also expensive, and cost is an problem that is an constant  obstacle for Indian generals trying to solve problems.





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