The Day He Left the Base for Good
As his psychiatrist, I should have been able to stop his suicide
TW: Suicide, Child Sexual Violence
October 2008, I’d been deployed to a remote base outside Mosul, Iraq for about two months, long enough to settle into a routine. I spent most of my days in a small building just off the base’s air strip. It had been an old Iraqi Air Force base, complete with a few burnt out French Mirage jets at one end of its runway.
The windowless, white-washed building we used for our Army Combat Stress Control clinic consisted of five small rooms. Our military added desks, file cabinets, chairs, and air conditioners. But it left the hooks. A large one pierced my office’s white ceiling in its center. Between patients, I stared at it and pondered whom or what had hung there.
As the only psychiatrist on base and one of three in northern Iraq for the U.S. military, my morning had been the usual busy. I saw soldiers for medication follow-up appointments. Our therapists had also seen several patients, and our enlisted techs ran at least one group session.
About mid-morning, the waiting area outside our offices was crowded. There was a large overhang with a few benches where soldiers smoked and talked. It wasn’t unusual for me to see one of my patients out there, waiting for individual talk or group therapy with another clinician.
Darren stuck out to me that morning. As I came back from a porta-potty, he made eye contact with me and held it. We both nodded. I thought about speaking, but that’s tricky as a psychiatrist. I always tell patients that I won’t intrude on them around others unless they call me over. Stigma shadows an approaching shrink.
I walked into my office and shut my door, looked at the hook above me for a few seconds, and then reviewed my notes for my next patient. I’ll regret that decision to not speak to Darren for the rest of my life.
When we returned from lunch, a company commander was waiting outside for us on one of our benches. He wanted to talk to me about an involuntary psychiatric evaluation for one of his soldiers. At the time in the military, only psychiatrists could approve them. My immediate supervisor, a social…