Last week, Stuff featured a very poignant article about one Sgt John M Russell, a soldier with the US army. Russell was only a matter of weeks from finishing his third tour in Iraq when he took a weapon and shot dead five of his fellow soldiers. He wasn't a 'mean' person, Russell's family have said - he simply cracked under stress.
The article describes the US forces in Iraq as troubled by violence between soldiers, and suicides. Mental health services are offered to soldiers, but the imperative in military culture to be strong, mentally and physically, deters them from seeking help.
Something I don't understand about warfare is that it requires soldiers to suspend any moral qualms they might have, and kill other people - military, sometimes civilian - because the leaders of their nation-state have decided it's a good idea. Very occasionally, wars are fought over important principles. Men and women serving in Iraq can't take comfort from knowing they're on the side of right: they're fighting an unwinnable war without popular support, which has shattered Iraqi society and polarised their own.
Violence damages the people who inflict it, just as it damages those who suffer it. There's no psychologically healthy way to take the lives of others - it seems to me that violence and suicides among soldiers aren't things that can be patched up with a visit to the doctor, but an inevitable consequence of the brutality of warfare. What mental health treatment can, or should, equip people for the business of killing?
'In the Valley of Elah' is a difficult-to-watch but worthwhile film which explores the effects of violence on the psychological wellbeing of US soldiers.