Engle said leaders in the military need to abandon what he described as the unfounded notion that diagnosing soldiers with common mental illness will reduce their will to function normally and recover.
He also encourages military psychologists to enforce the same confidentiality standards that are expected when a civilian seeks help for mental illness. While in civilian life, there is an expectation of privacy for those medical and mental health records, there is no similar practice in the military. He argues that soldiers should no longer be stigmatized for seeking help and should no longer have barriers to promotion if they are in treatment.
Psychologist David Rudd says that although this new published study is important, it is limited because it's only a snapshot of a brief period of time. While it looks at combat vs. noncombat soldiers and their risk for suicide, it fails to take into account the severity of combat exposure, he said.
Rudd is wrapping up the results of his own clinical study on the treatment of suicidal soldiers at Fort Carson, Colo.
"We actually have some data that does link suicide risk to very severe exposure to combat," Rudd said, although his data set is not as large as this new published study's. The results of his research will go under review next month.
Rudd argues overall that the military may not be the best place for long-term psychiatric care.
Instead, Rudd suggests, there should be better mental health screening on the front end. Currently, an understanding of a soldier's mental health upon enlistment is based on self-reported surveys. But tests later on of these same soldiers often turn up mental health problems that were there long before they served in the military, he said. The study, he argued, speaks to a much larger issue.
"We as a society have a hard time accepting that war presents a persistent problem of being (in) a high-stress environment," Rudd said. "It is remarkable that the vast majority of people who go into these high-stress environments come back and do fine and move on with their lives.
"But for those who suffer from a mental disorder, these repeated high-stress situations and exposures to the intensity of combat cause psychological injuries. And while we can reduce suicide rates, there will always be vulnerable people, and I think we have a hard time accepting that."