Army can’t ignore mental illness when considering Bradley Manning’s crimes

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Revelations at the trial and subsequent sentencing hearing for Private Bradley Manning prove that the Army is ignoring mental illness in its ranks and ruining countless people’s lives.

Prior to leaking secret government information to WikiLeaks Private Bradley Manning was reportedly showing all the signs of severe mental distress, and the Army seemingly did nothing about it.

Manning wasn’t just a little anxious or depressed.

He flew into rages.

He lapsed into catatonic states in the middle of discussions.

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He had sent an email to a superior of himself in a blond wig and makeup and stated he was suffering with a gender identity disorder which he had been trying to overcome. He wrote that his enlisting in the Army had been a strategy to avoid his symptoms, but that it hadn’t worked.

A month later he was found curled in a fetal position in a storeroom with a knife at his feet.

Yet, Manning was kept in a war zone by Master Sgt. Paul Adkins and not relieved of his responsibilities or clearance to handle classified material.

Adkins said his unit was understaffed and that Manning was saving lives by analyzing intelligence about threats in the war zone.

Res ipsa loquitur. That’s Latin for, “The thing speaks for itself,” a common law standard that asserts that negligence can sometimes be obvious from the events that then unfold.

If the Army has nothing more to say about any serious attempts it made to address Private Manning’s psychiatric symptoms, then it—and not Manning—is responsible for classified information being leaked (even though Manning accepts responsibility, by the way).

Because then the Army would be negligent in not removing from a war zone a person so fragmented psychologically as to sometimes lose the ability or willingness to speak, to be confused as to whether he was a male or not, and to be found curled up like a baby, with a knife at his feet.

The Army, the U.S. government and We the People, would then have gotten what we deserved and could have reasonably been expected—the recruitment into intrigue of an obviously psychiatrically compromised person.

The Armed Forces have apparently learned almost nothing from the skyrocketing rates of PTSD and major depression in those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

They have apparently learned nothing from the epidemic of suicide in their ranks. They have not learned that their strategy of attempting to promote “psychological resiliency” in soldiers by having them not focus on their emotions and ignore their traumatic experiences is a bankrupt one that is gutting the mental well-being of enlisted people and boomeranging back on them, veterans and the rest of us.

I have written again and again and again about the fact that ignoring our shattered, sorry excuse for a mental health care system in America (and we can certainly include the Armed Forces of America, because it is even worse therein) is the chief factor responsible for mass killings in our communities and for all manner of crime on our streets and, yes, even for acts like those of Private Manning.

Guns aren’t the problem that took dozens of lives in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut and Casas Adobes, Arizona (where Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head and others killed). Untreated mental illness is.

And evil and hatred of our country wasn’t the problem in Iraq when Private Manning leaked hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks. Mental illness was.

And, by the way, it just so happens that the U.S. military won’t deploy into combat those who enlist in the service on psychiatric medications—even ones like Prozac or Viibryd designed to treat depression and keep it away, sometimes forever. Therefore, lots of folks who want to serve their country stop taking their medicines, in order to enlist.

What policy could be more prejudicial toward those who actually want help for their symptoms? Or, more simply put: What policy could be more stupid?

I’m a forensic psychiatrist, but it doesn’t take a forensic psychiatrist to get to the bottom of this one. Simply as an American citizen, I would like to apologize to Private Manning and his family for the harm done him and done to them by the United States Army.