Saturday, March 28, 2009

Joseph Conrad in HEART OF DARKNESS Diagnoses PTSD

The Wall Street Journal's Weekend Journal section for March 28-29 had this large headline and article intro for an article by Yochi J. Dreazen datelined Fort Carson, Colorado:
A General's Personal Battle ... The military is facing a sharp spike in suicides, and Maj. Gen. Mark Graham is leading the fight to reduce them. His mission is close to the heart: His own son, a young ROTC cadet, killed himself six years ago.
Although the article is rather long, I urge you to read it after you finish reading this blog post.

In my opinion here are the most important paragraphs in the whole article:
Gen. Graham is turning Fort Carson into a testing ground for new ideas about suicide prevention. The most promising initiative involves "mobile behavioral health teams," groupings of more than a dozen mental-health professionals who work with individual brigades before, during and after their time in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Currently, troops are screened by mental-health professionals only on their return to the U.S. and have limited access to help while overseas. The idea originated with the Behavioral Health department at Fort Carson's hospital. Last fall, officials from the department met with Gen. Graham to propose creating one team as a trial, and he immediately gave his approval. The first team was established in November.

"The thinking is that the teams will really get to know each of these soldiers so they can identify changes in their behavior and spot the ones who need more help," says Lt. Col. Nicholas Piantanida, a practicing doctor who runs Fort Carson's clinical services. If the teams are successful, Col. Piantanida hopes to see the system replicated across the Army.
When I told my younger daughter Yael about this part of the article, she immediately went to our book shelves and brought back Joseph Conrad's novel HEART OF DARKNESS. "The book opened right to the page I wanted," she said, then asked me to read aloud a long paragraph, of which I'll only include here the most relevant parts:
"The old doctor felt my pulse.. . 'Good! Good for there,' he mumbled, and then with a certain eagerness asked me whether I would let him measure my head. Rather surprised, I said Yes, when he produced a thing like calipers... 'I always ask leave, in the interests of science, to measure the crania of those going out there,' he said. 'And when they come back too?' I asked. 'Oh, I never see them,' he remarked, 'and, moreover, the changes take place inside, you know.'...
Any of you following the tv series GREY'S ANATOMY undiagnosed-PTSD saga of Dr. Owen Hunt, formerly a deployed army major who was the sole survivor of an attacked convoy, know that in the episode on March 26, after in his sleep almost choking to death his girlfriend, he has finally accepted another doctor's suggestion that a study of Dr. Hunt's brain be performed. As the second doctor told him, there are changes in the brain that can actually be seen.

Thus the concept of army mental health professionals being in a position to gauge changes -- changes that Conrad in his novel published in 1899 was already aware of -- seems to be a giant step forward. Because if you only evaluate a man or woman after the fact, how do you know if anything has changed in that person's brain or mind?

You'll want to form your own opinion by reading this army suicide article now.

Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the author of MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL and the co-author of the Jewish holiday book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION. She also blogs at PZ the Do-Gooder Scrooge and Operation Support Jews in the Military, and she is the co-host of the BlogTalkRadio show Your Military Life. Her company Miller Mosaic LLC builds call-to-action websites for book authors and small businesses.

No comments: