Attempted suicide risk peaks at varying times during enlisted soldiers’ time in the U.S. Army, with most soldiers most prone to committing the act when they haven’t even been deployed yet, a new study has discovered.
The highest risk among those who were never deployed was marked at the second month of military service, revealed researchers from the University of California San Diego, Harvard Medical School, and University of Michigan.
The new study concluded that while the results are most relevant to those in active duty, they can also lend insight into the suicide risk of other soldiers, including the ones transitioning from military to civilian life.
Principal investigator Dr. Robert Ursano and his colleagues looked at administrative data from 2004 to 2009, covering more than 975,000 enlisted U.S. soldiers. Of the subjects, 9,650 had attempted suicide; 86 percent of them were younger than age 30; 76 percent were high school graduates; 60 percent were white; and 55 percent were married at the time.
About four out of 10 enlisted soldiers who had never been deployed made up more than 60 percent of the suicide attempts, with the highest risk in the second month of service. For previously deployed ones, however, the risk was noted at its highest five months following their return.
Two months into first joining military service, soldiers are typically just completing basic training.
“They are transitioning out of training and into regular service,” Ursano told NBC News.
The findings are not necessarily aligned with data on actual accomplished suicide, which is a crucial point to study given that suicides hit record numbers among U.S. service members in recent years. But the authors noted that their study period matches the time when suicide rates started to truly skyrocket in the military.
It is unknown in the study why the risk of suicide attempts peaks at various times during different stages, but Ursano emphasized that the variations manifested in people of different skill levels and environments. Both people and stressors are changing, he said in a Reuters report.
He explained the unique psychological differences among suicide ideation (thinking about the act), attempted suicide and completed suicide, pointing out that each of the three has its own set of predictors.
Transitions, such as when soldiers take a visit home and shift from there and back to the military, have been documented to be especially stressful.
“You’re more vulnerable not only to mental illness, but to physical illness,” Ursano said, citing colds and infections as some likely conditions to strike the sufferer.
Other findings showed that deployed soldiers were more likely to commit suicide using a firearm, while previously deployed ones maintained a higher suicide risk if they tested positive for depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after their return.
The new research, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, is part of the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS), modeled after the Framingham Heart Study. The heart research tracked people starting 1948 and from there crafted recommendations for optimal heart health.
Photo: Lance Cpl. Stephen Stewart, via DVIDSHUB | Flickr