Irish Defence Forces lacking in-house psychiatric professionals

It has recently been reported that the Irish Defence Force has been without an in-house psychiatrist since early 2017. Any member of the Forces who is in need of help for urgent psychiatric problems is now referred to a hospital emergency department, which is clearly the wrong establishment for a person who may be experiencing episodes of mental confusion or debility.

How has this situation come about? Simply because no-one has applied when the posts have been advertised.

Is this a disaster for those employed in the Irish Defence Forces? Let’s consider this….

Obviously there does need to be provision for those who are experiencing mental trauma. Many people in the military experience “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder “…. a psychiatric term which covers a multitude of mental health issues, but basically means that someone has experienced a traumatising event, and is now suffering mentally because of it.

They may have been deployed in war zones and witnessed extremely distressing incidents which then cause them to be badly affected emotionally. This can precipitate depression, feeling that they are not able to cope with day-to-day living, and this can sometimes lead to thoughts of suicide. Clearly, there needs to be provision to help people who are suffering with impaired mental health after witnessing awful events.

However, often military personnel are given a cocktail of drugs by psychiatrists, and, sadly, this can make matters even worse for the sufferers. In 2018 suicide rates for soldiers who were out in Iraq and Afghanistan amounted to 42. And if patterns of drug administration and suicide rates in soldiers are examined, a clear connection can be seen.

Since 2016, 1 in 13 soldiers have been given anti-depressants to alleviate a slew of conditions, from mental health issues to physical complaints. And although many believe that emotional trauma is seen predominantly in soldiers who have been in combat in war zones, in fact 50% of British military cases who present symptoms of emotional trauma are not actually related to deployment.

Antidepressants are administered anyway, often with tragic consequences. So, is the lack of an in-house psychiatrist a disaster for the Irish Defence Forces? I think we can see the answer is a clear NO.

It would be a disaster if members of the military were not able to have access to a real doctor who listened to them rather than a psychiatrist doling out drugs to suppress their feelings.

What soldiers need is education and factual information about the drugs they may be prescribed, particularly the side-effects and long-term consequences of taking a potentially toxic cocktail.

They also need to know that there are alternative and safe ways of overcoming mental trauma and that being drugged-up will ultimately not solve their problems, and may, in fact, exacerbate them.

It might be worth reminding ourselves that one of our greatest leaders, and a military man, Sir Winston Churchill, had some choice words to say about psychiatry.

In 1942, wary that psychiatry might attempt to impose itself on the military, he was quoted as saying:

I am sure it would be sensible to restrict as much as possible the work of those gentlemen, who are capable of doing an immense amount of harm with what may very easily degenerate in charlatanry. The tightest hand should be kept over them and they should not be allowed to quarter themselves in large numbers upon the fighting services at the public’s expense.”

Churchill, wise to the dangers of psychiatry ahead of many, spoke volumes in those few sentences.

His words echo down the years as we now see members of the military being stealthily beset by an unexpected threat – toxic drugs administered by those who are supposed to help and support them in their need.

Irish Defence Forces may have to wait a time longer to recruit an in-house psychiatrist….. but this lack may well have the happy consequence of saving quite a number of unsuspecting and vulnerable soldiers from the unpalatable side-effects of psychiatry.

By Beryl Sanderson


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