An U.S. veteran from Afghanistan who now serves in the House of Representatives wants military members to sign an anti-suicide oath when they leave the service. According to the Stars and Stripes, Florida Republican Congressman Brian Mast was on deployment to Kandahar in 2010 when a roadside bomb blew off both his legs. He believes an “Oath of Exit” administered to military personnel will prevent suicides among veterans who will be bound to call a friend before they attempt to take their own lives.
But the idea is not being greeted with enthusiasm by experts in the field of suicide prevention, some of whom say it might actually provoke more self-destruction.
“It won’t work, to put it bluntly,” Craig Bryan told the Stars and Stripes. The psychologist, who is also executive director of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah, sees the oath having a reverse effect. “At best, it would be a neutral effect, but it could make things worse.”
Bryan believes that the oath might just exacerbate the feelings of shame and guilt that produce suicidal thinking.
The veterans advocate who was formerly in charge of suicide prevention for the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) is also critical of the anti-suicide contract.
Caitlin Thompson says suicide prevention specialists no longer use oaths as part of their therapy.
“It isn’t just that it didn’t work. It actually had the opposite effect,” said Thompson. “It made it so that the person who signed it wouldn’t talk with their provider about feeling suicidal because of this fear of, ‘I signed this promise.'”
The oath has passed as a bill in the House and will be considered by the Senate when its members return from their summer recess.
Mast believes the oath will help prevent veterans from taking their own lives, but also says it will be voluntary. Although about 8.5 percent of U.S. citizens are veterans, according to DVA figures from 2014, 18 percent of all suicides were veterans.
“Nearly every week I hear from a veteran who is thinking about taking their own life; maybe walking into their garage, turning on their car and never coming out,” Mast recounted in a speech to the House.