Higher Suicide Rate Not Linked to Combat
Suicide is the leading cause of death in the U.S. military in recent years, but the stress of combat itself does not appear to contribute to the suicide rate, a new study says.
The study is available for free online at the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study looked at about 150,000 current and former members of the U.S. military in all branches. Researchers identified 83 suicides in this group and looked for common factors among them.
“None of the deployment-related factors (combat experience, cumulative days deployed, or number of deployments) were associated with increased suicide risk,” the study says.
So, if combat assignments don’t seem to have a relationship to the military’s increased suicide rates, what does? Researchers said the higher risk of suicide was most closely associated with mental health problems such as depression, alcohol abuse and manic-depressive disorder.
The good news in the study is that military personnel who experience combat don’t seem to be more likely to commit suicide. But the authors speculate that the more general stresses of serving in the military may be leading to mental disorders that do contribute to suicide risk.
“Studies have shown a marked increase in the incidence of diagnosed mental disorders in active-duty service members since 2005, paralleling the incidence of suicide,” the study says. “This suggests that the increased rate of suicide in the military may largely be a product of an increased prevalence of mental disorders in this population, possibly resulting from indirect cumulative occupational stresses across both deployed and home-station environments over years of war.”
The authors say their findings are relevant to how the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs should deal with suicide prevention in the U.S. military. The greatest potential for reducing suicides may be in screening for mental health disorders among military personnel and providing better quality care to address those issues, they say.
Rural Americans make up a disproportionate share of U.S. military personnel. A 2009 study by the Daily Yonder's Bill Bishop and Tim Murphy, for example, found that rural and exurban counties had higher rates of military enlistment than metropolitan counties.