What causes combat troops and veterans to kill themselves? The answer might have a huge impact on the living.
Until now conventional wisdom suggested the number, duration and intensity of combat deployments all played major roles.
But a new study suggests that mental issues and risky behaviors are the real culprits behind thousands of suicides as noted in the “Risk Factors Associated With Suicide in Current and Former US Military Personnel.”
“…factors significantly associated with increased risk of suicide included male sex, depression, manic-depressive disorder, heavy or binge drinking, and alcohol-related problems. None of the deployment-related factors (combat experience, cumulative days deployed, or number of deployments) were associated with increased suicide risk in any of the models.”
Read more here.
However, the study – funded by the Defense Department — does not completely close the door on the possibility that combat deployments might play some role in self-murder:
“The findings from this study are not consistent with the assumption that specific deployment-related characteristics, such as length of deployment, number of deployments, or combat experiences, are directly associated with increased suicide risk. Instead, the risk factors associated with suicide in this military population are consistent with civilian populations, including male sex and mental disorders. 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.”
“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. In addition to screening for and addressing mental health problems, further research is needed to more clearly understand the interrelationship of multiple risk factors leading to suicidal behaviors and the types and timing of interventions that may reduce or prevent death by suicide.”
A story on the study by Stars and Stripes contained this nugget:
“The Army report suggested that the increase was in part attributable to enlisting more at-risk soldiers after recruitment and retention standards were reduced in 2004. More than half of 80,403 waivers granted were to people with a history of drug or alcohol abuse, or crimes, the Army report said, and offenses that once had meant discharge were overlooked.”
Rick Rogers is a San Diego-based military writer.
Rick Rogers is a defense reporter based in San Diego.