There has been a flood of articles and news reports recently about the high suicide rates of returning veterans - and in no way am I trying to minimize that segment of our population nor suggest that programs to support these combat soldiers are not worthy causes. They most certainly are. I would - however - like to bring to everyone's attention a large segment of our population whose plight is continuously ignored; I'm referring to young people whose only means of coping with overwhelming emotional distress is to self-injure.
These are young people who can only find relief from emotional torment [or sometimes dissociation] by cutting, burning, imbedding, piercing, hitting, or injuring themselves through other means.
To give you an idea on how large a problem this is, let's run some numbers using statistics gathered in British Columbia by Dr. M.K. Nixon of the University of Victoria [NIXON, ET AL, 2006];
The school district centered in Penticton [SD 67] and covering surrounding communities, - where my practice is located - has approximately 4200 students between the ages of 12 and 18 registered. Of these, 680 will use self-injury to cope with emotional distress for an average of a year and a half. Of those, 280 will become addicted to self-injury and continue into adulthood.
So why compare those who self-injure to returning combat veterans?
Eighty-five percent of young people who self-injure to cope with anxiety, stress, depression, and suicidal thoughts & urges, report experiencing traumatic child abuse and/or child sexual abuse. Experiencing trauma - be it on a battle field, or in an abusive situation as a child - can leave people unable to cope with recurring nightmares, flashbacks, fears, and general anxiety that all too often follows trauma.
News reports are quoting sources that say suicide rates among combat veterans are four times higher than average.
Try this one on for size; from a 15 year study concluded in 2011, [HAWTON, ZAHL, 2011] - One year after an individual begins to use self-injury to cope, their completed suicide rate is 66 times higher than average, after 5 years it is 160 times higher, after 10 years it is 226 times higher, and after 15 years it is 283 times higher than the average population.
Our combat veterans have placed themselves in harm's way out of duty to our country and they deserve all our support and help when they return with overwhelming emotional distress. So too, do the 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys who have been sexually abused as children, and the 17 out of a hundred young people between the ages of 12 and 18 who turn to self-injury to cope. Their trauma is just as life-altering as anyone else's and their pain is just as real.
Aaron D. McClelland, RPCc www.interiorcounselling.com/aaron