Treating The Invisible Wounds Of War!

Terror is said to wound the brain just as bullets wound the body. Exposure to trauma and events that are extremely tough to handle affect the body chemistry.

This is what happens to soldiers at war, who develop disorders related to the brain or suffer from depression caused by traumatic experiences. Hundreds of thousands of troops serving the nation in Iraq and Afghanistan are said to be suffering from major depression or Post-traumatic stress.

This major health crisis is being handled by the U.S. Military in a way that has never been done in history – by popping the pill.

Growing numbers of U.S. troops are reported to be taking daily doses of Prozac, which is an antidepressant, to calm the nerves.

Officials say that increasing violence in Afghanistan and the isolation caused the troops to rely more on medication; although, it is the same in Iraq, but to a lesser extent. The Army’s fifth Mental Health Advisory Team report reveals data that shows about 12% of the Iraqi combat troops and 17% of the Afghanistan troops are taking antidepressants or sleeping pills.

Prozac (Fluoxetine hydrochloride) is the third most prescribed antidepressant, with over 22.2 million prescriptions having been filled during the last year alone. It has been approved by the FDA for use in treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder, clinical depression, panic disorder and bulimia nervosa. It is prescribed to alleviate anxiety and improve sleep.

Healthcare professionals say that antidepressants are to be used on people with chemical imbalances and not on people who are justifiably depressed because they see horror every day and they are thousands of miles away from home. If antidepressants are given to people without chemical imbalances, it can lead to adverse reactions and probably made worse by “medication.” They are also of the opinion that these soldiers need to receive appropriate care for the mental health conditions, or else they will have to face long-term consequences.

It is reported that even military physicians are divided on this, some are of the opinion that the exact effects of using medications such as Prozac, Zantac and other antidepressants on soldiers at war, is not very clear and others say that using this medicine for mild depression alleviates the need for replacement of soldiers, which can prove to be a costly affair.

There has been a hue and cry about people who are on antidepressants becoming aggressive or killing themselves. There was even the horrific story about Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of Prozac magically misplacing important information that shows a strong link between antidepressants and suicides. Long before the drug being approved and brought to the public, there apparently were many drug trials that proved this.

Although, there is no concrete evidence that Prozac may be what is actually making them commit suicide, the trauma that goes with killing people, watching friends die, feeling trapped, living in constant fear, knowing that they are going to go out there and do it over and over again, getting divorced, are sufficient to drive people to suicides.

These soldiers, who are fighting for their nation in Iraq and Afghanistan, pay a price not only in terms of endangering their lives but also pay a heavy psychological price. It all starts off with mild anxiety and passing irritability, difficulty in sleeping and increasing feelings of pessimism and apathy. As it worsens, these feelings last longer and the person concerned becomes panicky and angry. These symptoms are not restricted to the battlefield and continue even when these soldiers go back home, which affects their personal lives and results in broken marriages, breakdowns and suicides. This mental trauma is so severe that the Pentagon is planning on qualifying post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) as part of the “wounds,” which is currently only restricted to the physically injured soldiers. Defense Secretary, Robert Gates said that “it’s clearly something that needs to be considered and the Pentagon is weighing the change.”

With these soldiers subjected to this turmoil on a daily basis, the big question is, “Does Prozac or any other antidepressant really help?”

An investigation conducted on this suggests that the army is using a little-examined practice of giving antidepressants to get the soldiers going and continue fighting, in order to avoid the cost of deploying replacements and training, and also to maintain troop strength. These antidepressants and sleeping aids used for retention are said to have had tragic consequences and many a soldier in the past went back home in a coffin.

These combat troops that pop the pill and go back to work need follow-up care and more than anything else, they need rest.

This investigation reveals that there is alarming evidence that these medications are being dispensed with not much monitoring and minimal counseling, despite the fact that FDA warned that the drugs can increase suicidal thoughts. Another thing that they noticed was that these soldiers were sent back to the front lines by military doctors, after a three-day drug treatment and rest; whereas experts say that these drugs take anywhere between two and six weeks to actually start showing affect and provide any sort of therapeutic value, but the side effects kick in almost immediately.

Families of these troops also reported that their loved ones were prescribed antidepressants by military doctors, with no regular monitoring or counseling.

An explanation given by an Army Surgeon states that these drugs are only used to assist soldiers in passing through an event and they lay emphasis on keeping these troubled troops close to the front lines in their best interests, because it helps them recover and avoids the stigma of abandoning duty.

But experts outside the command look at this differently and point out that it is a completely irresponsible gesture and is being done as it is “best for the Army” and not the soldiers. Many consider this act of supplying antidepressants to the troops as an inhuman act. They say that the Army is denying these soldiers proper treatment, which entails taking them out of the battle, and adding a drug to this situation is the worst thing they can do.

Health experts say that although, Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa and Paxil are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants, they can worsen depression and may cause suicidal thinking and the FDA states that people who are on antidepressants should be carefully monitored when they are first prescribed; however, this is an almost impossible task to accomplish in a war zone.

The traumatized troops do find solace in these antidepressants and sleeping pills but in a totally different way – by faking a mental illness to be able to get out of duty. The health care professionals are being traumatized too, by having to constantly be on the alert for troops that are faking. Can the troops be blamed?