Gen. Stanley McChrystal's Resignation: Psychological Fallout?

Gen. Stanley McChrystal was relieved of his duty as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan Wednesday for conduct unbecoming a commanding general, leaving the longtime military man out of a job and bombarded by public scrutiny.

The general has been in hot water before, notably for his involvement in the alleged military cover up of soldier Pat Tillman's death in 2005. This time, however, his self-proclaimed "poor judgment" in making belittling comments about the Obama administration to a Rolling Stone reporter cost him his job.

The psychological fallout of such a public loss is bound to be mighty, mental health experts say.

"The loss of a job qualifies as a major stressful event for anyone, but the higher you are, the harder you fall," says Dr. Redford Williams, director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University Medical Center.

"For someone in McChrystal's position, at the top of his field, to be humiliated as he was and canned ... [it puts him in a position to be] more likely to become depressed, more likely to get sick or have any of a wide variety of medical problems," he says.

McChrystal was notoriously committed to his job. President Obama, even in accepting his resignation, applauded the general's "extraordinary dedication" to his work.

For someone with so much invested in what he does, loss of identity becomes a major issue when that source of purpose and identity is taken away, says Jim Stringham, a psychologist and clinical social worker based in Salt Lake City.

"When you're that focused on your job, that's a big void that's now sitting there with nothing to fill it," he says. "When the job goes away, it's just crushing."

There may be some solace in McChrystal's imminent retirement, however.

Under normal circumstances, he would not be able to retire at the four-star rank of his previous post -- and so would not have the pay and benefits that this rank merits -- because he was two years shy of meeting the minimum service requirement for four-star retirees.

However, ABC News has learned that this time requirement has been waived for the general, allowing him to retire as a four-star military man, with full benefits.

When Your Job Is Your Life

McChrystal's public resignation is an extreme example of the trauma that can surround being dismissed from your job, but the psychological and physical ramifications of such a life change for the general are likely to be similar to those of other committed, if not workaholic, people.

It's not quite as stressful as the loss of a loved one, but it can come close to that in its effect on mental and physical well-being, Williams says, and can cause "all kinds of physical and mental health problems."

Being let go from a job that you love comprises more than just a loss of occupation, people often feel a loss of identity, community, and their sense of control. It's a complex grieving process that takes time and effort to overcome, psychologists say.

"We base our identity on what we do, not who we are -- this is a mistake Americans make," he says. "In the general's case, the military was his life, and he loses not only his position but the sense of community. His confidants and friends were in the military, he would have died for his men."

For civilians, the loss of community may take the form of missed work events or just the camaraderie at the water cooler that once served as a social support system.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...