In an effort to combat low recruitment levels, the Army has begun allowing people with certain histories of mental illness, drug abuse, and self-harm to join the branch. The decision was made in August, but wasn’t widely publicized, and was made despite warnings from mental health organizations regarding the potential risks.
As reported by Fox News, individuals who have been diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder won’t be automatically prevented from joining the US Army based on their history of having the condition.
Additionally, individuals with issues relating to “cutting,” a form of self-harm involving taking a sharp object to willingly cut the skin, as well as a history of intentionally biting, bruising, or hitting themselves may also now be eligible to join the service.
Craig Bryan, the executive director of the University of Utah’s National Center for Veterans Studies, stated he was “shocked” by the decision. He said, “This contradicts everything we have been working toward for the past 10 to 15 years.”
Bryan asserts there is a strong link between self-injury and suicide, calling self-harm a “stepping stone to suicide” and considering it “the single strongest predictor of suicidal behavior.”
The Army’s decision to lift the ban comes as the military anticipates missing its goal of recruiting 80,000 new soldiers by the end of September 2018.
Previously, the Army moved to accept men and women who scored poorly on aptitude tests to help hit last year’s recruitment goal of 69,000 new troops. They also increased the number of pot use waivers and offered hundreds of millions of dollars in additional bonuses to entice people to join the military.
During fiscal year 2017, $424 million was paid out as bonuses, a marked increase from the $284 million spent on the same in 2016 and a staggeringly large difference compared to the $8.2 million paid out in 2014.
Now, recruits can submit waivers to allow them to sign up if they have a prior mental health issue, a reversal of an 8-year-old policy that was instituted after a spike of suicides.
Lt. Col. Randy Taylor, an Army spokesperson, stated that the waiver expansion moved forward due to an increase in accessibility to a potential recruits’ medical records, but added that such “waivers are not considered lightly.”
Dr. Joel Dvoskin, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor with the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Arizona, supports the Army’s decision to lift the ban.
“The label of mental illness is meaningless,” said Dvoskin. “There are a ton of people who have a history of something – some kind of emotional trouble – and they are fine. There is no reason in the world they couldn’t serve in the military.”
Dvoskin goes as far as to assert that, in some cases, mental illness could make soldiers “tougher and better.”
Not everyone agrees with the lifting of the ban, particularly for those with a history of self-harm, claiming that allowing such individuals to join could put others at risk.
Recruits with a history of self-injury, according to the Army, will have to provide documentation to be considered, including a detailed statement, medical records, and photos. They are also subject to a psychological evaluation.