The increased incidence of suicide among military veterans and active duty personnel is in the news media again, this time with a law that will allow further investigation of the problem by federal authorities.
In my opinion, the answer lies in prior medical data.
When the subways were being built in Europe in the 1930s, there was a high incidence of Caisson’s disease, a decompression illness similar to “the bends” that some scuba divers experience. Medical data show that there was a high incidence of suicide in the patients with Caisson’s disease.
Yet we do not see an increased incidence in suicide among scuba divers that have suffered the bends. The reason for this, in my opinion, is that all patients who suffer the bends are treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT).
Experimental animal data show that the over pressure and quick release from the noise of machine gun fire, anti-tank fire, or an improvised explosive device (IED) produces air bubbles in the vascular system that can affect the brain.
Therefore, the increased incidence of suicide among veterans and active military could be related to their exposure to blasts.
I have treated a number of vets for traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who were told that their symptoms were all psychological, based on CT and MRI imaging. However, when SPECT brain scans were performed on these patients, they came out markedly abnormal.
Several of these vets had attempted suicide, even though they had been on psychiatric drugs. To my knowledge, after HBOT, there has been no attempted suicide by these patients.
The SPECT brain scan has been able to objectively document the improvement in brain function with hyperbaric oxygen, correlating very well with the clinical improvement that these patients have had.
For instance, one had no physical injury, but had been through 40 blast exposures. He was so psychologically damaged that he was on seven psychiatric drugs and still attempted suicide.
With HBOT, his SPECT brain scan went from markedly abnormal to only minimally abnormal, with significant improvement in his clinical symptoms. Four years later, he no longer takes any psychiatric drugs and is an honors student in college.
With increased funding for evaluation of the problem of suicide in the military, perhaps we will recognize that air bubbles caused in the vascular system with blast exposure can go to the brain and create the brain damage.
Hopefully, the use of SPECT brain scans and hyperbaric oxygen therapy for those with suicidal tendencies will be recognized and utilized to actually decrease the incidents of suicide.
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