Monday, June 9, 2008

Prozac Nation Building

Some disturbing yet tragically unsurprising news from Time magazine: almost 20% of our soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan are on antidepressants. From the article:

Seven months after Sergeant Christopher LeJeune started scouting Baghdad's dangerous roads — acting as bait to lure insurgents into the open so his Army unit could kill them — he found himself growing increasingly despondent. "We'd been doing some heavy missions, and things were starting to bother me," LeJeune says. His unit had been protecting Iraqi police stations targeted by rocket-propelled grenades, hunting down mortars hidden in dark Baghdad basements and cleaning up its own messes. He recalls the order his unit got after a nighttime firefight to roll back out and collect the enemy dead. When LeJeune and his buddies arrived, they discovered that some of the bodies were still alive. "You don't always know who the bad guys are," he says. "When you search someone's house, you have it built up in your mind that these guys are terrorists, but when you go in, there's little bitty tiny shoes and toys on the floor — things like that started affecting me a lot more than I thought they would."

So LeJeune visited a military doctor in Iraq, who, after a quick session, diagnosed depression. The doctor sent him back to war armed with the antidepressant Zoloft and the antianxiety drug clonazepam. "It's not easy for soldiers to admit the problems that they're having over there for a variety of reasons," LeJeune says. "If they do admit it, then the only solution given is pills."

While the headline-grabbing weapons in this war have been high-tech wonders, like unmanned drones that drop Hellfire missiles on the enemy below, troops like LeJeune are going into battle with a different kind of weapon, one so stealthy that few Americans even know of its deployment. For the first time in history, a sizable and growing number of U.S. combat troops are taking daily doses of antidepressants to calm nerves strained by repeated and lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As I said, it's wholly unsurprising that this is happening; finding yourself on the other side of the world in the middle of a war that is extremely unpopular back home, amongst citizens who largely dislike you, in a dangerous and extraordinarily stressful environment trying to accomplish long-term goals that can not be adequately explained by your commanding officers, all on an ever-changing yet never-ending timetable is bound to wreak havoc on your mental state. At least we can take heart in knowing that this administration has spared no expense on top notch medical and psychological care for the troops once they're back here in the states. Oh wait...

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