As suicide rate spikes among Georgia vets, Shepherd Center raises money to help

By David Pendered

As the suicide rate among young Georgia veterans rises to well over twice the rate of their peers who did not serve in the military, the sixth annual event to raise money to help vets with brain injury and/or post-traumatic stress disorder is to end Memorial Day in Buckhead, when runners conclude their run from New York City to the Shepherd Center.

Shepherd Center, SHARE

A member of Shepherd’s Men paused to pay tribute in Washington to fallen soldiers during their fund-raising run from New York City to Atlanta. Well-wishers can greet the team as they arrive Monday at the Varsity and Shepherd Center. Photo courtesy of Katy Ruth Camp/Marietta Daily Journal

Suicide figures compiled by the U.S. Department of Veterans show that young Georgia vets, in addition to committing suicide at rates higher than their counterparts in the general population, are posting a suicide rate that nearly doubled from 2005 to 2016.

The rate soared from 27.2 in 2005 to 51.9 in 2016. The rates are for each 100,000 residents in the age bracket 18 years to 34 years, according to a data set in the most recent report by the VA.

On Memorial Day, well-wishers have two locations where they can to greet runners as they arrive in the event sponsored by an affiliate of Shepherd Center. Each runner has covered the entire route wearing a 22-pound flak jacket. The weight represents the 22 vets who committed suicide each day in 2014:

  • Around 12:30 p.m. at the Varsity, near Georgia Tech’s campus, at 61 North Ave. The group is to depart at 1 p.m.
  • Around 2 p.m., when the runners arrive at the Shepherd Center, near Piedmont Hospital, at 2020 Peachtree Road.

The event is sponsored by Shepherd’s Men, an affiliate of Shepherd Center. The fund-raising goal is $1.2 million, to benefit the Shepherd-based SHARE Military Initiative. Online contributions are still being accepted.

The sum to be raised is enough to cover a year of clinical expenses incurred by SHARE. The program has treated nearly 700 veterans, at no cost to the vets and with no reported suicides, according to a statement.

Shepherd Center, suicide rate by age

The VA observed of this chart that the suicide rate for those aged 18 years to 34 years ‘substantially increased from 2005 to 2016;’ and that the same age bracket had the highest suicide rate in 2016 among veterans of all ages, at 45 per 100,000. Credit: mentalhealth.va.gov

The suicide rate among military veterans has gained increased attention in recent years. As service members in the Middle East encounter attacks that seem intended to maim as much as kill, brain injuries have become more common than they were in past conflicts. A rising rate of post-traumatic stress disorder has been associated with these injuries and battle tactics.

President Trump established a Cabinet-level task force in March to address the suicide rate among military veterans. Task force members are to deliver within a year a:

  • “[R]oadmap to empower veterans to pursue an improved quality of life, prevent suicide, prioritize related research activities, and strengthen collaboration across the public and private sectors.  The roadmap shall analyze opportunities to better harmonize existing efforts within Federal, State, local, territorial, and tribal governments, and non-governmental entities.”

Suicide rates have nearly doubled among Georgia veterans since 2005; the War in Iraq/Operation Iraqi Freedom, began in 2003. Death by suffication has nearly tripled, while death by firearms had declined from 2005 through 2016, according to the data sheet contained in the latest report by the VA.

The profile of veteran suicides in 2016 in Georgia compiled by the VA includes the following. The corresponding suicide rate, per 100,000 persons, for non-veterans is noted within parentheses:

AGE

Shepherd Center, Groton

A group of Shepherd’s Men display their colors as they pass through Groton, Ct. on their journey to raise $1.2 million to help provide treatment to injured veterans. Photo courtesy of Katy Ruth Camp/Marietta Daily Journal

  • 18 years to 34 years: 51.9; (17.2)
  • 35 years to 54 years: 27.3; (17.5)
  • 55 years to 74 years: 23.0; (17.7)

GENDER

  • Male: 190 to 200
  • Female: Fewer than 10

METHOD

  • Firearms: 62.6 percent
  • Suffocation: 20.3 percent
  • Poisoning: 10.9 percent
  • Other: 6.3 percent

Georgia is among five states that contribute the most enlisted service members, in absolute terms, according to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations. The enlistment numbers result from the states’ relatively larges populations.

Georgia had the nation’s highest rate of representation in 2016, the CFR report showed. Georgia’s ratio was 1.5. A ratio of one means the share of recruits in 2016 was equal to the state’s share of youths aged 18 years to 24 years.

 

Shepherd Center, SHARE, NYC

A group of New York firefighters joined runners with a group Shepherd’s Men in climbing Three World Trade Center to begin the Shepherd’s Men fund-raising journey to Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Katy Ruth Camp/Marietta Daily Journal

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

1 reply
  1. Avatar
    Glenn Compton says:

    As a grieving father that lost his beautiful son to suicide, I would like to tell you this:

    Antidepressant use has increased dramatically in the last 15 years, mainly due to doctors writing prescriptions for off label use of the drug. Doctors expect their patients to self-monitor changes in their own mental health, even though every antidepressant and every psychotropic prescription drug carriers a black box warning about suicide ideation. The standard of care practiced and accepted by most physicians dispensing psychotropic drugs is to ignore the black box warning.

    Counseling should first occur before any psychotropic drug is prescribed, unfortunately, the majority of physicians and psychiatrists practice "first visit, first pill".

    Patients need to be informed of the risks of starting or stopping psychotropic drug therapy, this is not happening. Similar to the opioid epidemic, doctors carelessly writing prescriptions are contributing to the ever-increasing crisis of medically induced suicides.

    In my sons case, his psychiatrist treated "age appropriate stress" as a mental illness and prescribed him Paxil and Klonopin, which introduced him to suicide ideation. The one thing that angers me the most is an answer my son wrote on a questionnaire I read in his medical records; " I wish I could feel the same as I did before taking psychotropic drugs."

    If my son had never been prescribed psychotropic drugs, he would be alive today, happy and healthy. I believe this 100%.

    One of the biggest regrets I have as a father is not knowing the serious side effects of antidepressants and SSRI's. Had I known the dangers; I would have been able to prevent my sons tragic death.

    
I'm not a medical doctor and I would never give medical advice, but I will tell anyone this; be sure to read the prescription drug label warnings and make sure someone close to you knows about them too.Report

    Reply

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