Health

U.S. Soldiers’ Attempted Suicide Risk Changes Over Time

The risk of attempted suicide among U.S. soldiers who are enlisted peaks at various times throughout their careers, according to a new study. Researchers found that the timing of when enlisted soldiers are at higher risk for attempting suicide also varies according to whether or not they were ever deployed.

U.S. Soldiers' Attempted Suicide Risk Changes Over Time

Risk for attempted suicide changes

Dr. Robert Ursano from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland was the lead author on the study, which was published in JAMA Psychiatry. According to Fox News, researchers found that soldiers who had never been out on deployment faced the highest attempted suicide risk in the second month in which they were enlisted in the army.

Those who were deployed for the first time had the highest risk in the sixth month of that deployment, and for those who had finished their deployment, their risk peaked again five months after they went back home. Dr. Ursano told Fox News that although much of the talk about suicide focuses on completed suicides, this is “just the tip of the iceberg. He explained that it’s important to understand the risk factors that affect soldiers so that they can improve intervention.

Younger soldiers more likely to attempt suicide

The study covered more than 160,000 soldiers who were on active duty between 2004 and 2009. During those years, more than 9,600 soldiers attempted to commit suicide. Male soldiers were disproportionately affected as approximately 86% of those who attempted suicide were male. Younger soldiers were also more likely to attempt suicide as approximately 68% of them were under the age of 30. Also the majority of those who attempted suicide during the years of the study where white, had graduated from high school, and were married.

Researchers found that 40% of the total study group had never been out on deployment. They also learned that those who had never been deployed made up the majority of suicide attempts as approximately 61% of those who attempted suicide had never been deployed. Those who had been deployed in the past made up 29% of the attempts, while soldiers who were on deployment at the time of their attempts made up approximately 10% of the attempts.

The study found that when disregarding deployment status, females, those who were early in their careers, and those with a recent diagnosis pertaining to mental health faced a higher risk for attempting suicide.

Also the number of deployments soldiers had been on appeared to be a factor in whether or not they were likely to attempt suicide. Researchers said soldiers who had only been deployed once previously were more likely to attempt suicide than those who suffered from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Researchers unsure of why suicide attempt risk among soldiers changes

The researchers who conducted the study weren’t sure why U.S. soldiers appear to be at a higher risk for attempting suicide at different times in their career. However, Dr. Ursano noted that the variations they observed were linked to people with different levels of skill in various environment. He pointed out that as time goes on and as they experience new things, the soldiers themselves change and the stressors they experience change. He also noted that there are more suicide attempts in the U.S. every year than there are initial heart attacks, which is why it is so important to understand what increases risk.

The study was part of the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers, or Army STARRS. Dr. Ursano said that the study is based on the Framingham Heart Study, a well-known body of research which began tracking study participants in 1948 and which was used in setting recommendations for heart health.

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