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Last Updated: 10:24 AM, August 19, 2012
Posted: 10:20 PM, August 18, 2012
Troops who have survived shellings and shootings can find themselves emotionally wounded by online photos of spouses partying with strangers and innuendo-laden updates that betray a very different “status” than that of a devoted girlfriend back home.
Access to social media has created famous problems for the military — from pictures of soldiers acting disrespectfully, to troops inadvertently releasing the names of American dead before families were notified.
But just as problematic is the damage social media is causing soldiers’ psyches. Military psychiatrists have reported that Facebook on the front lines has played a part in a host of problems, including depression and suicide in active-duty military personnel.
“About 80% of all of our intake had some Facebook flavor,” said psychiatrist Dr. Valeh Karimkhani, an Army reserve major who has served two tours of duty in Iraq.
Karimkhani, who served in 2008 and again in 2010, said the damage was apparent when she watched troops using Skype and Facebook at the Al Asad Airbase.
“When you’re on the other side of the world and you see all these pictures of your wife or husband with a new group of people, new friends, it becomes really concerning,” Karimkhani said. “They would become depressed and paranoid and end up in psychiatry, saying, ‘I’m going to kill myself.’ ”
Military psychiatrists are now able restrict troops’ access to social media, change a soldier’s password — even force a mediated phone call with a warring spouse.
“Sometimes after contacting the spouse, they could see it was innocent,” she said.
Of course, there are times when suspicions are accurate. One soldier received a Facebook message from her husband on their anniversary, telling her he’d fallen in love with another woman and wanted a divorce.
“That was particularly cold,” said Karimkhani, chief of psychiatry liaison services at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, Calif.
The risks are even higher if it’s the soldier who is bragging about exploits online: Adultery by military personnel can be punishable by jail time.
“I am always amazed at the things people would put on Facebook, thinking it wasn’t a public forum,” Karimkhani said. “People would put some sort of back-and-forth innuendo with a new girlfriend on their wall and then be surprised that people would find out. I always want to say, ‘Hey, buddy, this isn’t your journal.’ You’re basically taking a bullhorn to say, ‘Hey everybody this is what’s happening in my life!’ ”
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