To Save Combat Veterans From Committing Suicide: A Diathesis Stress Model for the VA

News & SocietyNews

  • Author Norton Nowlin
  • Published December 7, 2018
  • Word count 880

Any male or female human adult acting under the stressors generated by violent interactive conflicts, such as war, over which he, or she, has no direct control, is consistently and negatively affected by the adverse control that the conflict's stressors have over the cognitive/affective sensibilities of the individual. The preexisting environmental stressors from previous unanticipated negative life experiences that accompany a person into wartime conflict, such the deaths and serious illnesses of family members, loss of jobs, and drug and alcohol addictions, etc. serve to add greater dimensions of dysfunction to the effects of violent stress. In other words, the measurable cumulative effect of all negative life experiences on a person can greatly influence the degree to which that person suffers the effect of war-induced post traumatic disorder.

Let's say, for instance, that John the valiant U.S. Marine has enlisted for three years to serve in Afghanistan as an infantryman to fight Taliban insurgents. Shortly after John arrives in Afghanistan, he receives word that his mother was killed in a fatal car crash in San Diego. John is allowed seven days leave, goes home, attends his mother's funeral, and returns to Afghanistan on the eighth day. In addition to the sum of the daily death and despair that John experiences in combat, he is, therefore, carrying around with him the death of his mother in his mind and psyche. To what deleterious degree does the stress of his mother's death exacerbate the stress that his accumulating because of his combat experiences in Afghanistan? An independent variable in this associative distribution of stressors is the timeframe. Let's say that the death of John's mother occurs six months before he enlists in the military, what negative stressors are still affecting John six months later when he joins the USMC? In most cases, no one ever knows what John is feeling and thinking until he becomes seriously overloaded with negative stress and demonstrates the symptoms of severe anxiety and a neurosis. Other negative life experience stressors may be added cumulatively to what veterans like John assume into their psyches before they are discharged from military service.

The effects of these stressors are substantially variable, from benignly stressful to harmfully stressful, depending upon the ability of the normal individual veteran to handle and process them. Nonetheless, the cumulative effects of this vulnerable stress, called diathesis stress, takes a pathogenic toll on every normal combat veteran in one way, or another. Only certified sociopaths, atypical human beings without conscience and the ability to show empathy, have the capacity to experience the morbidity of combat and all other negative life experiences without exhibiting the least bit of negative dysfunction. The actual use of convicted murderers and rapists, who were facing the death penalty in U.S. prisons, to serve as U.S. Marine Corps Raiders during the Second World War to fight the recalcitrantly entrenched Japanese on the Pacific Islands experientially proved this clinical assertion about sociopaths to be unquestionably true.

A replicable and reliable cumulative numerical scaling methodology for assessing and predicting the onset and total effect of stressful life experiences on soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors returning home from combat environments is, therefore, greatly needed as a means of effective assessment of this severe depression inexorably resulting in suicide, and prompt intervention. The etiology and onset of this deleterious crippling depression resulting from diathesis (vulnerability) stress is, therefore, the inability of the normal human being's composite mind/body system to meaningfully and healthily process the overly-burdensome and pathological amount stress from negative life experiences. A mind/body breakdown of minor or severe proportions inevitably occurs at some point in a person's life as a direct result of crippling diathesis stress at the critical moment where the mind/body complex is incapable handling, or constructively and positively processing, the severe weight of the anxiety created by the concurrently acting stressors. The result of this breakdown has been given a clinical name to replace the formerly used terminology, "shell-shocked," which is post-traumatic stress disorder.

Cutting to the chase, long-story short, the first measurement of accumulated stress was configured by psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe in 1967.

For adults, the measurement of life event-stress was quantified as the following:

Life event Life change units

Death of a spouse 100

Divorce 73

Marital separation 65

Imprisonment 63

Death of a close family member 63

Personal injury or illness 53

Marriage 50

Dismissal from work 47

Marital reconciliation 45

Retirement 45

Change in health of family member 44

Pregnancy 40

Sexual difficulties 39

Gain a new family member 39

Business readjustment 39

Change in financial state 38

Death of a close friend 37

Change to different line of work 36

Change in frequency of arguments 35

Major mortgage 32

Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30

Change in responsibilities at work 29

Child leaving home 29

Trouble with in-laws 29

Outstanding personal achievement 28

Spouse starts or stops work 26

Beginning or end school 26

Change in living conditions 25

Revision of personal habits 24

Trouble with boss 23

Change in working hours or conditions 20

Change in residence 20

Change in schools 20

Change in recreation 19

Change in church activities 19

Change in social activities 18

Minor mortgage or loan 17

Change in sleeping habits 16

Change in number of family reunions 15

Change in eating habits 15

Vacation 13

Major Holiday 12

Minor violation of law 11

Score of 300+: At risk of illness.

Score of 150-299: Risk of illness is moderate (reduced by 30% from the above risk).


Norton R. Nowlin is a published professional writer living in Northern Virginia. Mr. Nowlin took B.A. and M.A degrees in psychology, political science, and sociology from U.T. Tyler and completed one year of law school at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, in San Diego, California. With over 120 hours of graduate inter-disciplinary work, Mr. Nowlin is also an ABA-certified advanced paralegal

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