FROM THE WEB
Net Briefs 04-09
Card Check History
Bruce E. Levine
Oscar Winning Hope
Feminism & War
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
Suicide Spike for U.S. Soldiers
Psychiatric or Political Solution?
In February 2009, Americans heard about a dramatic rise in suicides among U.S. soldiers. While treatment for emotionally troubled soldiers increasingly consists of antidepressants such as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft, recent investigations show that these drugs are no more effective than placebos and can actually increase suicidality. In order to prevent even more suicides, both the research and basic common sense instruct us that we need less psychiatric drugs and more political courage.
Suicides in the U.S. Army rose for the fourth straight year in 2008. Army statistics, which include the Army Reserve and the National Guard, confirm 128 suicides (with 15 more deaths under investigation). Suicides for the Marines also have increased, with 41 in 2008, up from 33 in 2007 and 25 in 2006.
The number of soldiers who committed suicide during January 2009 actually surpassed the number of soldiers who were killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan during that same time period. In January 2009, there were 16 U.S. combat deaths and, the Army believes, 24 suicides (the Army has confirmed 7 suicides and it believes that investigators will confirm an additional 17 other deaths as suicides). January 2009 suicide totals were more than five times higher than January 2008 totals.
Why are so many U.S. soldiers killing themselves? According to Colonel Kathy Platoni, chief clinical psychologist for the Army Reserve and National Guard, one major reason is multiple deployments. Army psychiatrist Colonel Charles Hoge reports that by early 2008, nearly 30 percent of troops were on their third deployment. Another reason appears to be more psychiatric drug use.
Increasing Antidepressant Use
For many mental health professionals, especially governmental ones, a "good treatment outcome" consists of a troubled person adapting to a miserable, dehumanizing environment in a way that causes the least problems for authorities. Too few mental health professionals tell authorities that the best "treatment" sometimes means helping a troubled person to exit from a miserable environment. Whether it is a troubled soldier in a horrifying war zone or a disruptive child in a boring school, mental health professionals are far less likely to recommend a radical altering of an environment than they are to recommend a chemical altering of the person suffering in it.
An increasing number of U.S. combat troops are taking daily doses of antidepressants to "take the edge off" and calm nerves. According to the U.S. Army, based on an anonymous survey of troops taken in the fall of 2007, about 12 percent of combat troops in Iraq and 17 percent of those in Afghanistan were taking antidepressants or sleeping pills. Those percentages have likely increased, and Colonel Platoni noted that the excessive use of antidepressants for troubled soldiers may be another reason why so many of them are killing themselves.
How can a drug that is called an "antidepressant" result in more suicidal soldiers? According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "black box" warnings on Prozac and other so-called antidepressants, "Antidepressants increase the risk compared to placebo of suicidal thinking and behavior in children, adolescents, and young adults."
Grace Jackson, former staff psychiatrist at Bethesda Naval Hospital and author of Rethinking Psychiatric Drugs, is an outspoken critic of psychiatric drugs. Jackson states, "New reports about record-breaking numbers of Army suicides are alarming but not surprising." Jackson notes that there are several studies on military personnel, veterans, and the general public that show the suicidal effects of antidepressants.
One study, Jackson points out, is a 2007 investigation reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry ("Relationship Between Antidepressants and Suicide Attempts: An Analysis of the Veterans Health Administration Data Sets"), which examined veterans who received treatment for depression in either 2003 or 2004. Study findings were that antidepressant treatment was associated with a higher rate of suicide attempts relative to those who were not treated with drugs.
Especially damning for antidepressants is a 2009 Journal of Affective Disorders study ("Psychopharmacological Treatment Before Suicide Attempts Among Patients Admitted to a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit"). Investigators reported that patients who had attempted suicide were more likely to have received antidepressants (as well as benzodiazepines such as Xanax) than patients who did not attempt suicide, and this finding was not biased by differences between the groups in baseline severity of symptoms. Researchers concluded, "The results of this study suggest that the use of antidepressants in patients with mood disorders is not associated with a reduction of suicide attempt rate. Furthermore, from the present study, it is not possible to exclude that antidepressants or benzodiazepines may induce, worsen, or precipitate suicidal behaviors in some patients."
Can We Trust NIMH Studies?
U.S. government officials would like Americans to feel assured that the government is scientifically ascertaining the reasons why soldiers are increasingly killing themselves as well as how to prevent this. In November 2008, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) announced that it and the Army had entered into an agreement to conduct a $50 million study on suicide and suicidal behavior among soldiers.
Do we really need to give $50 million to NIMH psychiatrists and psychologists to discover that when one has been in, or is currently in, or is about to be deployed to a miserable, terrifying, traumatizing place, it is likely that one will feel suicidal? More importantly, should we trust the NIMH when it comes to treatment recommendations?
One disturbing example of NIMH scientific bankruptcy, and its corruption by drug companies, is the 2006 NIMH-funded Sequential Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D). This has become the most quoted study by antidepressant advocates. STAR*D researchers received consulting and speaker fees from the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the antidepressants studied, but NIMH did not report these conflicts of interest to the general public.
In STAR*D, paid for by U.S. taxpayers at the cost of $35 million, NIMH-funded researchers did not include a placebo control—an essential component of treatment effectiveness research. Yet, to the exasperation of legitimate scientists, NIMH claimed that STAR*D showed that antidepressants are highly effective. NIMH neglected to report that at each treatment step of STAR*D, remission occurred at lower than or equal to the customary placebo performance (routinely around 30 percent in other antidepressant studies that included placebo controls).
After the completion of the first two steps of STAR*D in March 2006, NIMH triumphantly announced a cumulative remission rate of 50 percent. But NIMH did not tell the press that in the same time it took to complete steps one and two of STAR*D—slightly over six months—previous research had shown that depressed people receiving no treatment at all have a spontaneous remission rate of 50 percent.
STAR*D researchers then offered a third and fourth treatment for patients who failed prior ones, but for each of these steps, remission rates plummeted to below 14 percent. This was reported, but it was not stated that this was far lower than customary placebo results.
Upon STAR*D's completion, in November 2006, STAR*D researchers again exasperated many scientists by failing to incorporate into their overall results both the high relapse rate (for patients who at previous steps were considered to have been successfully treated) and the high treatment dropout rate. NIMH claimed a 70 percent success rate, but independent scientists (who took into account STAR*D's extremely high relapse and dropout rates) estimated that the actual cumulative remission rate of the four treatment steps was no higher, and probably lower, than 43 percent.
With respect to the current $50 million U.S. Army-NIMH study, can we really trust that it won't be another sham? I certainly wouldn't hold my breath waiting for a U.S. Army-NIMH study to include this obvious recommendation: the best mental health treatment to prevent suicide in our soldiers is getting them the hell out of a war zone, especially if the vast majority of Americans believe that the war is unnecessary.
Bruce E. Levine, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and author of Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007).
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.